Most Competitive Medical Specialties and How To Get Into Them

Aspiring medical professionals face a plethora of choices when it comes to selecting their area of expertise. The field of medicine offers a diverse range of specialties, each with its unique challenges and rewards. While some medical specialties are highly competitive and require years of training and dedication, others are considered easier to match into. For medical students who are exploring their career options, understanding the differences between various specialties and the factors that contribute to their competitiveness can be crucial in making an informed decision. In this article, we will explore the most competitive medical specialties and how to get into them.


Medical Specialties: An Overview


Before we dive into the competitive specialties, let us first understand what medical specialties are. Medical specialties refer to areas of medicine that focus on a specific body system, disease, or patient population. A medical student may choose to specialize in a particular field after completing medical school and residency training.


There are two types of medical specialties: primary care and non-primary care. Primary care specialties include family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology. These specialties are considered the first point of contact for patients seeking medical care. Non-primary care specialties include dermatology, radiology, surgery, psychiatry, and many others.


Competitive Specialties


Medical students who aspire to specialize in certain fields may face more competition than others. The following are some of the most competitive medical specialties:



Neurosurgery is widely considered as the most competitive medical specialty for several reasons. Firstly, neurosurgeons are responsible for treating some of the most complex and delicate conditions that affect the brain, spinal cord, and nerves. Such conditions can range from brain tumors and aneurysms to complex spinal cord injuries and disorders. As a result, neurosurgeons are required to have a broad knowledge base and skillset to manage these conditions effectively.

In addition to the complexity of the conditions that they treat, the training for neurosurgery is also notoriously demanding. Neurosurgeons undergo several years of rigorous residency training, which can last up to seven years after completing medical school. During this period, they are required to work long hours, take on-call duties, and handle high-pressure situations. The intensive nature of the training aims to equip them with the necessary knowledge, technical skills, and judgment to deliver the best possible patient outcomes.

Furthermore, the high level of competition in neurosurgery is due to the limited number of training positions available each year. The number of residency positions in neurosurgery is significantly lower compared to other specialties, resulting in a highly competitive application process. As a result, only the most exceptional and dedicated medical students are accepted into neurosurgery residency programs.



Plastic Surgery

Plastic surgery is a highly competitive specialty that involves reconstructing, restoring, or altering the human body. This specialty requires extensive surgical training, including a five-year residency and two years of fellowship training. The unique blend of skills and knowledge required to succeed in this field, combined with the high demand for plastic surgery services, means that competition for plastic surgery training programs and jobs is often fierce.

Aspiring plastic surgeons must demonstrate exceptional academic performance, surgical skills, and a passion for the field to stand out from the crowd. They must also be able to communicate effectively with patients, work collaboratively with other healthcare professionals, and stay up-to-date with the latest advancements in the field.

The competition for plastic surgery jobs after completing the necessary training can be equally intense. Plastic surgeons must not only demonstrate the technical skills required to perform complex surgical procedures, but also the ability to build strong relationships with patients and colleagues alike.


Orthopedic Surgery


Orthopedic surgery is a branch of medicine that deals with the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of musculoskeletal disorders, which affect the bones, joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nerves.

This specialty is known for its high level of competition due to several reasons. Firstly, the complexity of the musculoskeletal system requires extensive knowledge and skill, making the training period lengthy and challenging. Orthopedic surgeons undergo a five-year residency program and may require additional fellowship training, which adds to the duration of their education.

Secondly, there is a growing demand for orthopedic care due to an aging population and an increase in sports-related injuries, resulting in a higher demand for orthopedic surgeons.

Lastly, the high earning potential and prestige associated with the specialty make it an attractive option for medical students, leading to a larger pool of highly qualified candidates competing for limited residency positions. Overall, orthopedic surgery remains a highly sought-after specialty due to its challenging nature, growing demand, and attractive career prospects.





Dermatology is a highly competitive medical specialty that focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of skin, hair, and nail conditions. Due to its popularity among medical students and its high earning potential, dermatology residency programs receive a large number of applications each year. With only a limited number of residency positions available, the competition for a spot in dermatology training can be intense.

This high level of competition is also due to the fact that dermatologists have the opportunity to work in a variety of settings, including private practice, academic medical centers, and hospitals, making it a sought-after specialty in the medical field.


Radiation Oncology


Radiation Oncology is a specialized medical field that involves using radiation therapy to treat cancer patients. It is considered one of the most competitive specialties in medicine due to the limited number of residency spots available and the extensive training required. Typically, Radiation Oncology residencies last for five years, followed by an additional one to two years of fellowship training. The rigorous training and limited number of available positions result in fierce competition among medical students and residents who are interested in pursuing this field.

Despite the competitive nature of this specialty, the rewards of helping cancer patients and advancing the field of radiation therapy make it a highly sought-after career path for many aspiring physicians.



Easiest Specialties to Match Into


Although some medical specialties are highly competitive, there are several other specialties that are considered to be easier to match into. For aspiring physicians who are interested in pursuing a medical career, understanding the differences between these specialties can be crucial in deciding which path to take. Here are some of the easier-to-match medical specialties for those who may be considering a less competitive field:


Internal Medicine


Internal medicine is a primary care specialty that deals with the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of adult diseases. It is considered an easy specialty to match into, and it requires a three-year residency training.


Family Medicine


Family medicine is another primary care specialty that focuses on the care of patients of all ages. It is considered an easy specialty to match into because there is generally less competition for family medicine residency programs, making it more accessible to medical graduates who may not have the highest board scores or academic achievements. Additionally, family medicine residency programs typically require three years of training, which is shorter than many other medical specialties.




Psychiatry is a medical specialty that focuses on the diagnosis, treatment, and management of mental illnesses. It deals with a broad range of mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and addiction. As a specialty, it is known for its high demand and low competition, making it an attractive option for medical students and graduates looking for a career in healthcare.

One of the reasons why psychiatry is considered an easy specialty to match into is its relatively low competition compared to other specialties. This is because there is a growing demand for psychiatrists due to the increasing prevalence of mental health disorders worldwide, combined with a shortage of psychiatrists to meet this need. As a result, there are more residency positions available than there are applicants, making it easier for aspiring psychiatrists to match into a residency program.




Pediatrics is a branch of medicine that specializes in providing primary care to infants, children, and adolescents. Pediatricians are trained to diagnose and treat a wide range of health issues that affect children, from common illnesses to chronic conditions. Compared to other medical specialties, pediatrics is generally considered an easier specialty to match into, with less competition for residency programs.

One reason for this is that pediatrics is a primary care specialty, which means that it focuses on providing ongoing, comprehensive care to patients over time. This differs from many other specialties, which may focus on specific medical conditions or procedures. As a result, there is a high demand for pediatricians in many areas, particularly in underserved communities.

Hence, it is considered an easy specialty to match into, and it requires a three-year residency training.


How to Get into Competitive Specialties


However, if you are determined to pursue a career in a competitive medical specialty, there are specific measures you can take to improve your chances of successfully matching into your desired program.

Start Early


Begin preparing for your residency program early in medical school. Participate in research, clinical experience, and extracurricular activities that align with your desired specialty. This will help you build a strong application and make you a more competitive candidate.


Get Strong Board Scores


High board scores are important for matching into competitive specialties. Start studying for your board exams early and work hard to achieve high scores.


Get Research Experience

Research experience is highly valued in competitive specialties. Consider participating in research projects that align with your interests and future career goals. This will help you develop a strong research background, which is highly regarded by residency programs.


Gain Clinical Experience

Clinical experience is also essential for matching into competitive specialties. Consider shadowing or volunteering in a clinical setting that aligns with your desired specialty. This will help you gain valuable clinical experience and develop a better understanding of the specialty.


Build Strong Relationships

Building strong relationships with your mentors, professors, and peers can help you stand out in the application process. Seek mentorship from physicians in your desired specialty and ask for letters of recommendation from individuals who know you well.


Prepare for Residency Interviews

Residency interviews are an essential component of the matching process. Prepare for your interviews by researching the program, practicing common interview questions, and reviewing your application materials.


Consider Fellowship Programs


Fellowship programs can be a great way to gain additional training and experience in your desired specialty. Consider applying to fellowship programs that align with your career goals.






Choosing a medical specialty is an important decision that requires careful consideration. Some medical specialties are more competitive than others and require a higher level of dedication and hard work. If you are interested in pursuing a career in a competitive specialty, start preparing early, gain research and clinical experience, build strong relationships, and prepare for residency interviews. With dedication and hard work, you can increase your chances of matching into your desired program and pursuing a successful career in medicine.

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