How a Doctor Can Change Their Specialty

After more than a decade of undergraduate studies, medical school, and residency training, physicians deserve to be satisfied in their careers. For many physicians, that satisfaction hinges on one key thing:

The specialty they choose in medical school.

Unfortunately for some physicians, the specialty they choose in their twenties doesn’t prove to be as rewarding when they’re practicing medicine in their thirties, forties, or fifties.  

Because physicians have to select a specialty so early in their career, some end up regretting that choice and contemplate switching to a new one. If you’re considering working in a different field of medicine, here’s what doctors need to know about changing specialties.

Changing Specialties is Complicated

According to a recent study, only 41% of physicians would choose the same specialty again if they had the chance to do it over. So if you’re feeling less than satisfied with your choice of specialty, you’re not alone.

Changing specialties is always possible, but depending what your current one is and what your next one will be, it can be quite complicated.

Making the change is easier if you plan to switch to a different subspecialty of the same discipline or revert back to the broader discipline. 

For example, a hematologist that has completed an internal medicine residency plus a fellowship in hematology may find it relatively easy to revert back to the overall specialty of internal medicine. Should that same hematologist choose to become a surgeon or OB/GYN, the process will be more complex and more time consuming.

You May Have to Do Another Residency

Physicians that want to make a significant change in their specialty won’t have to go back to medical school, but they might have to do another residency.

Repeating residency means working on a resident’s salary again. No matter how far along you are in your current career, this will mean having to endure a significant pay cut. It might also require you to move, which can be problematic if you have a partner, spouse, children, or other responsibilities in your community.

Prepare to Undergo More Training

If you’re planning to switch from one subspecialty to a new one in the same discipline, doing another residency may not be necessary. Doing a fellowship may be.

Some fields of medicine overlap; others do not. The extent of how much new training you’ll need depends upon what your current field is and what you want the next one to be. 

Before You Decide to Change Specialties, Check Your Employment Contract

Making the decision to change specialties is not one that you should make overnight. It’s understandable that many physicians don’t want to waste any more time and would prefer to start their new training sooner rather than later. But the choice to do so should be part of a well-orchestrated, bigger picture plan.

The first step is to review your current employment contract. If you’re considering quitting your current position to start your new training right away, take a hard look at your termination clauses, restrictive covenants, and any insurance obligations you may have if you breach your contract.

If you’re on the fence between renewing your contract and ending it to return to a new residency program or fellowship, don’t sign your contract until you’ve done a thorough physician contract review. A contract review lawyer may be able to help you negotiate a shorter contract, which can buy you some time to further weigh the decision to switch specialties.

Why Do You Want to Change Specialties?

Before deciding to change your specialty, ask yourself why you want to do so. Are you looking for more money? Are you hoping for a better work/life balance? Are you burned out?  All of these are valid reasons to want to make a career change, but there may be an easier way to do it. Ask yourself, is it the specialty that you’re unhappy with or is it your current place of employment?

Earning more money, working less hours, and reducing your stress levels may not require a specialty change at all. You might be able to enjoy all of those benefits simply by opting to work with a larger team of physicians or opening a practice of your own.


Changing specialties is not easy to do, but it is possible. Doing another residency, undergoing more training, and taking a pay cut are sacrifices you’ll need to make, but if you’re highly dissatisfied with your current career path, it may be worth it. 


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