Specialty choice for smart but socially awkward medical students.

Jun 12, 2019
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Hello everyone. I’m a rising MS4 still trying to decide on what specialty to do. From third year, I’ve basically realized that I’m not great with patients. In addition, I’m not great at reading social cues. I’m by no means antisocial or a jerk, and have a decent number of friends, just not exactly a “people person”. I’ve realized that these facts might make going into something that is more clinically-oriented more difficult. I’ve had advisors recommend Pathology, Radiology, Anesthesiology, and surgery since I mentioned that I like procedures and “surgeons aren’t known for their people skills”. I was initially thinking of going into either FM/IM or EM, but realize that those specialties might be difficult due to said social awkwardness. I have mostly HP grades and 240s/250s on Steps. Thoughts?
 

Moko

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Pursue the specialty that you enjoy the most, otherwise you'll be miserable doing something that you only tolerate. Social awareness can be trained and learned. And even if you're awkward around patients, who cares? They're there for your medical advice and expertise, not to be your friend or drinking buddy. There's also plenty of socially awkward doctors in FM, IM and EM, so even in the worst case scenario, you won't be in short company.

I also disagree with your advisors. A good surgeon requires just as much people skills as any other specialty -- it's not easy to establish rapport and to tell a family member that their loved one needs emergent surgery within moments of meeting them.
 

radsisrad

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Rads and pathology come to mind most quickly, but there are *plenty* of weirdos in FM, IM, and Psych. Ophtho people can also be a little weird. If you're truly socially-awkward, I would not necessarily recommend anesthesiology - I'd think that people about to go under general anes. for surgery really don't want to put their lies in the hands of someone who mutters, can't keep eye contact, seems shifty, etc.

Older attendings can be weird and quirky regardless of specialty (yes, even in derm, ortho, etc.).
 
OP
C
Jun 12, 2019
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Medical Student
Pursue the specialty that you enjoy the most, otherwise you'll be miserable doing something that you only tolerate. Social awareness can be trained and learned. And even if you're awkward around patients, who cares? They're there for your medical advice and expertise, not to be your friend or drinking buddy. There's also plenty of socially awkward doctors in FM, IM and EM, so even in the worst case scenario, you won't be in short company.

I also disagree with your advisors. A good surgeon requires just as much people skills as any other specialty -- it's not easy to establish rapport and to tell a family member that their loved one needs emergent surgery within moments of meeting them.
I think what they said was not only about patients, but how one interacts with the nurses, other residents, techs, and attendings as well. Certain specialties these actions aren’t as critical, but my advisor said something like EM where everyone in the department is on the same level in terms of importance, it’s very important to be able to build rapport with nursing staff, same with FM. Said people will give doctors **** if they think they’re “on the spectrum”.
 

mistafab

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Oct 20, 2015
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I think that picking a specialty based on the identity of being socially awkward is a cop-out.

Pick a specialty that you are most interested in. Work towards improving your skills both with patients and, especially, with peers and co-workers. It may take a lot of work, however, anything worth doing does.
 
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Sep 7, 2017
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It depends. If you think it's truly a problem, obviously you can't go wrong with pathology or radiology.
You do need a minimum amount of ability to communicate with other physicians, nurses, patients etc. You don't have to be charming and the best at it, you just have to get your point across. I have seen weirdos, I have seen super quiet people, I have seen jerks, I have seen egoists, and whatever. All you need is getting your point across. If you have trouble with that which by now it seems like you do. Lot of people can doubt their social skills before third year but most people once they finish 3rd year either learn or realize it is pretty easy to communicate (most people).
If you still can't then, path or rads.

Unless you are a genius surgeon, you need a lot of people's skills as a surgeon. Yes, some are jerks but like I said above they get their point across. Most average surgeons need to know how to communicate.
 
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nimbus

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I am socially awkward and I have found a nice happy home in anesthesia working with other socially awkward surgeons, nurses and scrub techs. Seriously choose whatever you like. Keep in mind you will continue to develop social skills as you get older. Some people are late bloomers. Sometimes even the job itself will help you develop social skills.
 
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Tenk

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Socially awkward people usually sink in the emergency department. My department is like my second family. Also, you have to deal with some real crazy, drugged out patients. Do you want to talk to some meth head who takes off their clothes and starts peeing on the floor? Cause that’s like a regular thing.

Specialties I would check out for people who don’t like patients and/or are socially awkward: rads, path (obviously the best 2), maybe anesthesia but you need to see how you deal with the OR crew, maybe MICU as almost all your patients are on the vent, CT surgery (most are a-holes so if you’re nice you’d be a blessing), neurosurgery (most don’t talk much, some do) and interventional cardiology. Also, if you’re into sports and fitness ortho/sports medicine has a pretty cool patient population that is like 1,000 times better than the average patient.

Specialties I would not recommend: anything pediatric due to parents, FP, EM, general IM with clinic or any subspecialty that has a lot of clinic, oncology, OB/gyn, general surgery, plastics/derm. These all require lots of patient interaction or good social skills.
 

nimbus

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I think what they said was not only about patients, but how one interacts with the nurses, other residents, techs, and attendings as well. Certain specialties these actions aren’t as critical, but my advisor said something like EM where everyone in the department is on the same level in terms of importance, it’s very important to be able to build rapport with nursing staff, same with FM. Said people will give doctors **** if they think they’re “on the spectrum”.

Some of the oddest, most awkward doctors at my workplace are also some of the most beloved. I think this is because they have proven over time that they are capable, dedicated and kind. That goes a long way. The workplace is not a bar. You have a long time to make an impression so some of the surface stuff is not as important.
 

MSTP18

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Just want to throw out that as pathologists we are dealing with people on the regular (other pathologists, other specialties, lab techs, path assistants, histo techs, various supervisors/managers) we just don’t deal with *patients*. I think one of the reasons “the pathology job market sucks” is too many people coming in thinking that those “soft skills” don’t matter in path when they are just as important for us as they are for other specialties. I chose path because I had grown tired of the physician-patient dynamic but I still love interacting with other professionals.
 

Planes2Doc

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I've met awkward people in all kind of fields. There's nothing wrong with it.

I've met some really interesting ones in psychiatry. If you don't care about patient contact, radiology, pathology, and anesthesiology are some good ones.
 
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I've met awkward people in all kind of fields. There's nothing wrong with it.

I've met some really interesting ones in psychiatry. If you don't care about patient contact, radiology, pathology, and anesthesiology are some good ones.
That’s what I’ve figured. People will always say the cliche “do what you love”, but if one can’t function at the job, it will just cause one misery.
 
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EMhopeful2

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Dude stop being socially awkward and talk to people. You'll enjoy life more. I used to be socially awkward in college and it took a failed relationship in med school to fix that, but I'm glad it happened.
 
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Planes2Doc

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That’s what I’ve figured. People will always say the cliche “do what you love”, but if one can’t function at the job, it will just cause one misery.
So true. My sister is an introvert, I'm an extrovert. She's a radiologist and couldn't be happier. My mom begged me to shadow a pathologist for a day, and I did. I'm so thankful he let me go around lunchtime since I was bored out of my mind. Different strokes for different folks!
 
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Dr. Brightside

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Definitely have already met awkward docs in FM/IM/EM and also neurology. Usually I just assume they're extra smart so don't let it hold you back!
 

Lnsean

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do what you love and screw what everyone thinks. if you are good at what you do your work will speak for itself.
 

CherryRedDracul

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Just want to throw out that as pathologists we are dealing with people on the regular (other pathologists, other specialties, lab techs, path assistants, histo techs, various supervisors/managers) we just don’t deal with *patients*. I think one of the reasons “the pathology job market sucks” is too many people coming in thinking that those “soft skills” don’t matter in path when they are just as important for us as they are for other specialties. I chose path because I had grown tired of the physician-patient dynamic but I still love interacting with other professionals.
Replace pathology with radiology and the same thing holds. We do get a fair share of physicians who come by the reading room to discuss a case. And we often do present in front of tumor and other multispecialty boards a lot.

Social skills are helpful in our fields.
 
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Jun 20, 2019
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It all really depends at how awkward you are. I agree with others - most awkwardness won't preclude you from a specialty, but if you feel it's really bad and you feel like you're constantly struggling to interact/explain things to patients, then it could legitimately affect your job satisfaction.

What some people are missing is that for some (not all) people with legitimate social anxiety, interacting with people can be draining/confusing. So going into a field where you see 35 patients a day might lead to high job dissatisfaction, compared to lower volume/patient interactions.

If you're truly worried about it, I would avoid a specialty with a high number of outpatient hours and patient volume. Outpatient PCPs, especially family docs, generally need to develop rapports with their patients and families over time. Specialties that see a lot of kids have to have some minimum of social skills to navigate the complexities of dealing with patients.
 
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enalli

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Hello everyone. I’m a rising MS4 still trying to decide on what specialty to do. From third year, I’ve basically realized that I’m not great with patients. In addition, I’m not great at reading social cues. I’m by no means antisocial or a jerk, and have a decent number of friends, just not exactly a “people person”. I’ve realized that these facts might make going into something that is more clinically-oriented more difficult. I’ve had advisors recommend Pathology, Radiology, Anesthesiology, and surgery since I mentioned that I like procedures and “surgeons aren’t known for their people skills”. I was initially thinking of going into either FM/IM or EM, but realize that those specialties might be difficult due to said social awkwardness. I have mostly HP grades and 240s/250s on Steps. Thoughts?
Can you better articulate what you have trouble with?

Are you unable to tell if someone is happy, sad, angry, nervous, etc.? Can you recognize when someone is joking or being sarcastic? Are you bad at small talk? Can you answer questions in a way that others can understand? Do you ramble too much? Do you make jokes that always fall flat? Do you come off as mean or arrogant?

If you can identify it better, you likely will be able to work on it.

If you can be polite, appropriately empathetic, and able to answer patients' questions in layman's terms, you can succeed in any specialty.

A lot of people have mentioned some of the more obvious specialties where you could be a personality fit (rads, path, anesthesia, neuro). Also consider some of the IM subspecialties such as rheum, ID, endocrine, renal, etc.
 
OP
C
Jun 12, 2019
7
6
11
Status
Medical Student
Can you better articulate what you have trouble with?

Are you unable to tell if someone is happy, sad, angry, nervous, etc.? Can you recognize when someone is joking or being sarcastic? Are you bad at small talk? Can you answer questions in a way that others can understand? Do you ramble too much? Do you make jokes that always fall flat? Do you come off as mean or arrogant?

If you can identify it better, you likely will be able to work on it.

If you can be polite, appropriately empathetic, and able to answer patients' questions in layman's terms, you can succeed in any specialty.

A lot of people have mentioned some of the more obvious specialties where you could be a personality fit (rads, path, anesthesia, neuro). Also consider some of the IM subspecialties such as rheum, ID, endocrine, renal, etc.
It’s the non-verbal communication that I have the most difficulty with. I realize no matter what I go into, being good at that will be helpful. Do you know any books/resources that would be helpful in that regard?
 
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enalli

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It’s the non-verbal communication that I have the most difficulty with. I realize no matter what I go into, being good at that will be helpful. Do you know any books/resources that would be helpful in that regard?
I do not know of any resources personally, but I'm sure you're not the first person out there who wants to improve their communication, so I have to assume such a thing exists.
 

CherryRedDracul

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It’s the non-verbal communication that I have the most difficulty with. I realize no matter what I go into, being good at that will be helpful. Do you know any books/resources that would be helpful in that regard?
You mean picking up on non-verbal cues or more like being to adeptly use your body language to convey something?

Type in "body language" on YouTube and a ton of resources will pop. From there on, it all comes down to practice.
 
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IMreshopeful

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Socially awkward people usually sink in the emergency department. My department is like my second family. Also, you have to deal with some real crazy, drugged out patients. Do you want to talk to some meth head who takes off their clothes and starts peeing on the floor? Cause that’s like a regular thing.

Specialties I would check out for people who don’t like patients and/or are socially awkward: rads, path (obviously the best 2), maybe anesthesia but you need to see how you deal with the OR crew, maybe MICU as almost all your patients are on the vent, CT surgery (most are a-holes so if you’re nice you’d be a blessing), neurosurgery (most don’t talk much, some do) and interventional cardiology. Also, if you’re into sports and fitness ortho/sports medicine has a pretty cool patient population that is like 1,000 times better than the average patient.

Specialties I would not recommend: anything pediatric due to parents, FP, EM, general IM with clinic or any subspecialty that has a lot of clinic, oncology, OB/gyn, general surgery, plastics/derm. These all require lots of patient interaction or good social skills.
Interventional cardiology (and cardiology in general) requires very good social skills. Not sure where that came from in your list. We also see patients in clinic, have to speak with referrings, and deal with some deathly ill patients - try having bad social skills and talking down a writhing STEMI on your lab table. We also have to be fairly adept at talking to the families of patients and telling them that their family member could die or that they’d didn’t make it. Believe it or not we have to do more than just stick tubes and wires in people
 
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IMreshopeful

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It’s the non-verbal communication that I have the most difficulty with. I realize no matter what I go into, being good at that will be helpful. Do you know any books/resources that would be helpful in that regard?
Having awkward body language can be worked on
Ultimately you should do the specialty that you like the most. I know too many miserable doctors who regret what they’re doing
 
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Tenk

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Interventional cardiology (and cardiology in general) requires very good social skills. Not sure where that came from in your list. We also see patients in clinic, have to speak with referrings, and deal with some deathly ill patients - try having bad social skills and talking down a writhing STEMI on your lab table. We also have to be fairly adept at talking to the families of patients and telling them that their family member could die or that they’d didn’t make it. Believe it or not we have to do more than just stick tubes and wires in people
You sure don’t seem social at 3 am when it’s a STEMI. Only it’s suddenly not a STEMI.... even though it is a STEMI.

Also: versed.
 

IMreshopeful

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You sure don’t seem social at 3 am when it’s a STEMI. Only it’s suddenly not a STEMI.... even though it is a STEMI.

Also: versed.
Yah bro sorry my bad you’re totally right totally invalidates what I wrote. Completely. Real zinger
 

LookForZebras

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Hello everyone. I’m a rising MS4 still trying to decide on what specialty to do. From third year, I’ve basically realized that I’m not great with patients. In addition, I’m not great at reading social cues. I’m by no means antisocial or a jerk, and have a decent number of friends, just not exactly a “people person”. I’ve realized that these facts might make going into something that is more clinically-oriented more difficult. I’ve had advisors recommend Pathology, Radiology, Anesthesiology, and surgery since I mentioned that I like procedures and “surgeons aren’t known for their people skills”. I was initially thinking of going into either FM/IM or EM, but realize that those specialties might be difficult due to said social awkwardness. I have mostly HP grades and 240s/250s on Steps. Thoughts?
As a serious introvert and not a great people person myself, my advice is to avoid trying to fool yourself into thinking you'll be happy practicing FM, IM, or EM. Pathology or radiology sound great. Maybe something in between like anesthesiology or surgery... but even those require a lot of patient interaction, reading social cues, and empathy.