Nov 14, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

Selecting a specialty is a defining moment in a medical student’s career. And while internal medicine, pediatrics, emergency medicine and family practice may top the list of chosen specialties, they’re far from the only options out there. Read on for a roundup of five lesser-known specialties worth considering.

1. Wound Care

Diabetes and obesity are the largest contributing factors for wounds, according to a recent Huffington Post blog entry by James Calder. And as instances of these interlinked health conditions continue to rise, so do issues with non-healing wounds -- which result in a significant number of preventable amputations and deaths.

Enter wound care, AKA “the coolest specialty in healthcare.” Says Calder, “We are not talking about simple cuts, scrapes, or boo boos. Wound Care is a raw, gritty, extremely visual, and sometimes nauseating field of health care. It is certainly not for the squeamish. At the same time it is the coolest, most visual, and passion filled specialty of healthcare in which to be employed.”

So what, exactly, do wound care specialists do? Continues Calder, “The wound care community is a segment of healthcare specialists that have dedicated their lives to the healing and treatment of non-healing wounds….As wound care specialists, our goal is to never get to the point of amputation. We use advanced treatments like hyperbaric therapy, debridements, and venous ablation to treat and heal our patients.”

2. Hand Surgery

We may take them for granted every day, but our hands do a lot for us. For this reason, there’s a great need for specialists in hand surgery. According to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand (ASSH), “Hand surgery is the field of medicine that deals with problems of the hand, wrist and forearm. Hand surgeons care for these problems without surgery, and they are specially trained to operate when necessary. “

After completing medical school, aspiring hand surgeons complete residencies in orthopaedic surgery (5 years); plastic surgery (5-7 years); or general surgery (5 years), followed by a one year hand surgery fellowship program covering trauma surgery of the hand and wrist (including replantation of severed body parts); congenital differences; microvascular surgery; arthritis surgery; reconstructive wrist surgery; and peripheral nerve surgery.

Indeed, the path to becoming a hand surgeon is not a short one. However, studies in this field will uniquely qualify you with the expertise you need. Says ASSH, “There are always more job openings per year than the number of hand surgery fellows who are completing their training.”

3. Bariatric Surgery

As the obesity epidemic rages on, demand for bariatric surgeons -- AKA those who specialize in weight loss surgical procedures -- is also skyrocketing.

Says the New York Times of this potentially life-saving field, “Bariatric surgery is an option that obesity medicine specialists say is too often ignored or dismissed. Yet it is the only option that almost always works to help very heavy people lose a lot of weight and that also can mysteriously make some chronic conditions vanish.”

4. Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine

According to the American Board of Medical Specialties, “An emergency medicine physician who specializes in Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine treats decompression illness and diving accident cases and uses hyperbaric oxygen therapy to treat such conditions as carbon monoxide poisoning, gas gangrene, nonhealing wounds, tissue damage from radiation and burns, and bone infections. This specialist also serves as a consultant to other physicians in all aspects of hyperbaric chamber operations, and assesses risks and applies appropriate standards to prevent disease and disability in divers and other persons working in altered atmospheric conditions.”

Other unusual and exciting subspecialties of emergency medicine include medical toxicology (physicians who specialize in the treatment of injuries and illnesses caused by exposure to drugs and chemicals as well as biological and radiological elements); pain medicine; and hospice and palliative medicine.

Also worth considering? The relatively new subspecialty of wilderness medicine. Writes former president of the American Association of Emergency Medicine Megan Boysen of this one-year fellowship, “Physicians are trained to meet the unique challenges and emergencies that arise in environments isolated from formal medical care. Specific foci include hyperbaric and marine medicine, altitude-related illnesses, orthopedics and wound care, tropical and travel medicine, hypothermia, animal envenomations and animal-related infections.”

5. Sleep Medicine

We know that sleep is critical for good health, and yet a whopping third of all adults don’t get enough sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This field of medicine is tasked with exploring how to help humans sleep better. “A family physician with demonstrated expertise in the diagnosis and management of clinical conditions that occur during sleep, that disturb sleep, or that are affected by disturbances in the wake-sleep cycle. This specialist is skilled in the analysis and interpretation of comprehensive polysomnography, and well-versed in emerging research and management of a sleep laboratory,” says ABMS.

If helping people get enough Zzzs -- and all of the benefits of doing so -- sounds like a worthwhile pursuit, then a career in sleep medicine may be the perfect fit.

While being any kind of doctor is a noble enterprise, choosing the right speciality (and/or subspecialty) can help you vastly enhance and enrich your personal and professional satisfaction. For a comprehensive list of your options, check out the American Board of Medical Specialties’ (ABMS) “Guide to Medical Specialties 2017”.









Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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