This post was originally published in May of 2020 and has been updated to reflect the most recent National Residency Match Program (NRMP) data.
Have you ever wondered what the most popular fields of medicine are? It’s hard to know since there are so many medical fields! There are dozens of medical specialties from which new medical school graduates can choose.
What draws each doctor to their specialty varies, but some common considerations are: type of patients, work-life balance, demand for the specialty, residency competitiveness, and long-term financial outlooks.
The National Residency Match Program (NRMP) recently released data on the most popular medical specialties for the 2023 Main Residency Match. This year’s match had the largest number of certified positions in history, with 40,375 positions offered – an increase of 1,170 positions compared to last year.
With this data on hand, we reviewed our list of the most popular fields of medicine to provide current and prospective medical students with an updated guide to the most popular medical specialties in 2023.
Learn more: Once again, Trinity saw great success during the 2023 Match, with graduates matching into residencies in internal and family medicine, orthopedic surgery, pediatrics, psychiatry, and more! Check out our full 2023 Match Day recap here.
1. Internal Medicine & Primary Care
With over 9,000 medical residency positions filled during the 2023 Match, internal medicine remains one of the most popular specialties for residency training in the U.S.
Internal medicine is a subset of primary care that focuses on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases in adults. Physicians who specialize in internal medicine, also known as internists, are experts in managing complex medical conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. They also provide routine care, such as annual physical exams and health screenings.
Internal medicine and primary care providers are trained to diagnose and treat a wide range of medical conditions, and are often considered the first point of contact for patients seeking medical care. Though this specialty is more generalized than others on this list, don’t mistake “general” for “boring.” General medicine is set to see exciting changes in the near future. Technological innovations will help family doctors be more effective than ever, and the rise in telemedicine also provides new opportunities for up-and-coming doctors.
Despite the severe and increasing shortage of primary care physicians in the United States, the 2023 Residency Match saw a record number of primary care positions offered. This is a positive sign for healthcare in the United States, as the growing shortage of primary care physicians in the U.S. has led to longer wait times for appointments, reduced access to care, and higher healthcare costs overall, particularly in underserved communities. The fact that there were more primary care positions offered in the 2023 Match than ever before is a step in the right direction toward addressing this shortage and improving access to primary care for patients across the country.
Many physicians find a special satisfaction in helping to improve a child’s health and wellbeing and seeing them grow and develop over time. As rates of burnout rise among healthcare professionals, more physicians than ever seek specialties that offer personal fulfillment as well as professional and financial benefits.
Additionally, pediatric medicine offers a wide range of career paths and specialties, allowing doctors to pursue a variety of interests within the field. Pediatricians can work in primary care or within a hospital setting, and they have the choice to maintain a general focus or specialize in areas such as child psychiatry, pediatric oncology, pediatric anesthesiology, or pediatric emergency medicine, among others.
Like primary care and family medicine, the demand for physicians trained in pediatric medicine shows no signs of slowing down across North America. In the United States, demand for pediatricians is expected to increase by 7%. Meanwhile, Canada lists pediatric doctors among occupations facing a labor shortage throughout the next ten years, making this specialty a smart choice to consider for Canadian medical students. The increase in demand and broad range of positions also makes this field less competitive for residency matching than some other specialties, which can be appealing to medical students.
3. Orthopedics & Orthopedic Surgery
Orthopedic surgery is often described as one of the most rewarding specialties. They have the ability to change lives by relieving pain from osteoarthritis, returning mobility to patients after hip and knee surgery, and the ability to help young people return to the sports they love by addressing ligament injuries.
It’s no surprise, then, that the number of available residencies for this specialty continues to increase each year. Orthopedic surgery was one of only four specialties that filled 100% of available residency positions during the 2023 Match, making it a popular and highly competitive field for medical students.
Though orthopedic surgery can be a demanding field for physicians, it is also a highly profitable one. According to 2022 data, orthopedists earn the second-highest salary of any medical specialty. While there are various factors to consider when selecting a medical specialty, earning potential undoubtedly holds considerable weight for any aspiring physician.
As the stigma surrounding mental health treatment begins to fall away in many communities, people are starting to seek care from both counselors and psychiatrists. As such, psychiatry consistently ranks high on lists of in-demand physician specialties.
Like other medical specialties, psychiatry is experiencing a significant shortage of healthcare providers in the United States and Canada, which has worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This shortage has also affected job opportunities for mental health providers. Despite efforts by many residency programs to increase opportunities in this area, more than 50% of them face obstacles in their attempts to do so, slowing down the potential growth in this field.
Nevertheless, psychiatry residency applicants and matches continue to climb each year. As the need for mental health care continues to grow, there will continue to be a greater demand for psychiatrists who can provide essential care to those in need.
Which Fields of Medicine Are Becoming Less Popular?
While some medical specialties are growing in popularity, others are seeing a decline. Here are a few medical fields that have become less popular since our original publishing of this post:
- Obstetrics & Gynecology: Like other specialties on this list, the lack of OB/GYN providers has created a public health crisis in some areas of the United States and beyond. Nearly half of all counties in the United States do not have a single OB/GYN physician, making the demand for OB/GYN doctors undeniable. Unfortunately, interest in this specialty may not be improving at a rate that will fill this gap. The number of 2023 residency positions offered in this specialty remained flat compared to 2022, and applications for OB/GYN residencies dropped 5%.
- Emergency Medicine: The high levels of stress and burnout associated with the field have made emergency medicine a challenging specialty, particularly following the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, compensation for emergency medicine practitioners is relatively lower compared to other specialties, making it a less attractive option for medical students with significant debt from their education.
- Family Medicine: While primary care and internal medicine continue to attract more applicants each year, family medicine has not seen the same surge in popularity. In fact, 2023 data shows a decline in the number of medical students pursuing this specialty. This might be due to the perception that family medicine is less lucrative than other medical specialties, and the fact that family medicine physicians are often required to treat a broader range of conditions, which can be more challenging than focusing on a specific area of medicine.
Are The Most Popular Medical Specialties Also the Most Competitive Residencies?
If you are a prospective medical student in the early phases of choosing a specialty, you may be wondering how difficult it is to match with your top residency choice. Keep in mind, though, that there is a difference between popular specialties and competitive specialties.
The reason that some of our featured specialties are so popular, like pediatrics, is because of the demand that keeps residency opportunities expanding each year. Other popular specialties that are generally considered less competitive residencies include psychiatry, physical medicine and rehabilitation, and radiology. While these specialties are popular, they tend to have higher numbers of available residency positions than some of the more competitive specialties, leading to less competition for spots.
On the other hand, specialties like dermatology, plastic surgery, and orthopedic surgery are consistently ranked among the most competitive residencies, with only a small percentage of applicants being accepted. Internal medicine and primary care are also becoming increasingly competitive as the demand for these specialties grows.
However, some specialties that were once popular, such as family medicine and general surgery, have seen a decline in popularity and therefore may not be as competitive as they once were. Nonetheless, the competition for residency spots in any specialty remains high due to the limited number of available spots compared to the number of applicants. Competitiveness can vary depending on the specific program and location, so applicants should research and apply to programs that align with their interests and qualifications.
Find the Right Specialty & Match to Your Top Residency Pick
Whether you have a specialty in mind or you just know that you want to practice medicine, Trinity School of Medicine can help put you on the right track toward a successful residency match and a fulfilling career as a physician. With a focus on hands-on learning and early clinical exposure, Trinity provides our Caribbean medical school students with the tools and knowledge they need to succeed in their chosen specialties. Plus, our small class sizes and individualized attention from faculty also offer students personalized guidance and support throughout their medical education journey.
Contact us today or submit an application to start on your journey toward practicing medicine.