The easiest doctor to become is relative. If we’re talking “easy” in terms of then the answer is a family doctor or internist, which requires a shorter residency period than other specialties. But we can also think of the easiest doctor to become by talking about the hardest doctor to become. Looking at it this way, the answer to which doctor is the easiest doctor to become is more complicated. We’ll try to answer all these questions and give you several different categories of doctor that have high levels of job satisfaction, and more or less patient interaction. But we’ll also try to dispel the myths about which specialties are the easiest and hardest, so you have a more balanced picture of what is involved in each.
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1. Family Medicine
3. Internal Medicine
5. Preliminary Surgery
6. Orthopedic Surgery
8. Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation
10. Child Neurology
These are the specialties that are the easiest to get into based on the fill rate; the “fill rate” represents the percentage of US MD graduates who match into a specialty, so the higher the fill rate, the more competitive the specialty. These specialties have the lowest fill rate, so they are the , and, by extension, are the easiest doctors to become.
However, fill rates and residency competitiveness are only two metrics to determine which doctor is the easiest doctor to become, but they don’t explain the whole story. If we use only these categories, family medicine is clearly the easiest medical specialty to enter, and, by extension, the easiest doctor to become.
But to gain a deeper understanding of what the easiest doctor to become is, we’ll go through each stage of becoming a doctor starting with medical school, then onto residency. Except, we’ll even go beyond that. We’ll also examine which medical specialties are the easiest (and hardest) to be, according to several factors, such as job satisfaction, burnout rate and salary.
For example, which specialty requires a lot of studying? Which are difficult subjects and mentally demanding? Which are the hardest board exams? And what about when you become a doctor and start practicing? Which specialty has the , or best hours? Which lets you achieve the best work-life balance?
In medical school, the first time you get a taste of what it’s like to be a real doctor comes in your clerkship years (the last two years of medical school). During this time, you meet and interact with patients, work under supervising physicians and apply all the knowledge that you learned in your pre-clerkship years (the first two years of medical school). But not all medical specialties are the same. There are some rotations that are harder than others, which is why it is important to know .
But another reason why we’re looking at the easiest and hardest rotations in medical school is to see whether there is any connection between how difficult or easy these specialties are in medical school compared to the real world. There are no scientific measures we’re using other than what medical students usually report when discussing this topic. In general, out of all the core rotations that students have to do, they report the following as the easiest (1) to the hardest (5):
Why Psychiatry is the Hardest Clinical Rotation
Psychiatry is often reported to be the hardest rotation because it is usually the first time you encounter people with serious mental illness, which can be mentally draining. But, despite its challenging nature, once you pass the gauntlet of medical school, you usually only have to spend four years in a , and, if you decide not to train in a sub-specialty, can get your license to practice right after. But many practicing psychiatrists report having a high level of job satisfaction, along with high salaries between $208,462 and $311,334, in the US and Canada, respectively.
But, again, all this is relative. Many medical students, while saying a psychiatry rotation is the most emotionally taxing, also say that is the easiest rotation to do in terms of content and exams. Similarly, many students say that internal and family medicine rotations are the hardest because of the extensive knowledge base you have to develop for either specialty, as they are primary care specialties, and deem them the hardest.
Still others mention OBGYN and surgery as the hardest, for various reasons, including the content, the difficulty of the exams, and the skill set needed. So, there is no real consensus on which are the easiest or hardest rotations. But when we compare what medical students say about these rotations and where these specialties rank for highest burnout rate, there are some similarities.
According to a recent survey by the American Medical Association, 46% of internal medicine, family medicine and OBGYN physicians reported experiencing burnout; only critical care physicians and neurologists had higher rates of burnout at 48%. So, there is some consistency between what medical students think and the real-world conditions of being a physician in any of these specialties.
But the point to all this is to challenge the widely held assumption that a family doctor is the easiest doctor to become, simply because it takes the least amount of time. We’ll go into more detail later about why. But now we’ll discuss which are the easiest and most difficult residencies to complete and see whether there is any connection to whether these specialties are also easy or hard in the real-world.
Here's how to answer "why do you want to become a doctor?"
Again, when talking about the easiest doctor to become in terms of , the answer is family medicine. You can enter a family medicine residency right after graduation, unless you decide to take a , or pursue some other postgraduate activity. But what are the hardest specialties to complete during residency, and does that difficulty translate into professional life? One of the specialties that takes the longest and is often considered the hardest is radiology.
Why is Radiology the Hardest Residency?
A can last anywhere between three or five years, depending on the program, the location and which sub-specialty you’re going into – interventional radiology; diagnostic radiology; or radiation oncology. In general, radiology is a difficult specialty for the level of knowledge you need to be an effective radiologist.
Radiologists use a variety of techniques and methods to properly diagnose everything from a broken bone to cancer. This means having knowledge of both anatomy and pathology, which takes years of study and practice. But even though radiology takes years of study and training, many practicing radiologists are happy with their work.
Close to half of all radiologists' in both the US and Canada report being satisfied with their careers. This might not seem like a lot, but radiology does not even appear in the top ten medical specialties that have the most burnout, so while only half of radiologists may be satisfied with their job, the other half is still more satisfied with their profession than those specialties which experience burnout most often.
But there are exceptions. Interestingly, another found that radiologists who chose the specialty for the perceived “easy” lifestyle were more dissatisfied than those who chose it because of its intellectually challenging nature. It’s true that radiology attracts a certain type of personality – studious, unrelenting, intellectually curious and maybe a little introverted. But it is also these types of people who enjoy radiology the most.
What this goes to show is that you have to put a lot of thought into . What you may think is the easiest doctor is to become is not always the easiest doctor to be. You need to do as much research as possible, mostly by speaking to physicians in these fields or alumni from your medical school or residency program to understand all the nuances and complexities that come with practicing in this profession.
Residency doesn’t last forever; so even though the specialty you chose may seem like the easiest or hardest now, during your residency, there are so many things that change when you finally become a doctor. And there is no better evidence of this than the difference between how easy it is to become a family doctor compared to what it is like to be a family doctor, which we’ll finally discuss here.
Why is family medicine, or a family doctor, considered the easiest doctor to become? The simple answer is that it takes the least amount of time. After your four years at medical school, (or a ) you can do a three-year , pass your board exams, and that’s it, you’re a doctor! You can choose to enter any type of practice, from private practice to group practice, which have their advantages and disadvantages, but both types of practice means you get to choose your own hours.
But surprisingly, family doctors are not always the happiest. Several studies point to the pressures of being a family doctor owing to external factors such as:
- Financial concerns of owning a private practice
- Overall burnout
- Never-ending workload
- Difficulty in achieving a satisfactory work-life balance
In Canada, 61% of family physicians reported having poorer mental health post-pandemic. Family medicine is also becoming less attractive for Canadian medical graduates. According to (Canadian Resident Matching Service), only 33% of medical graduates in Ontario choose family medicine; the lowest percentage in nearly a decade.
When you also take into consideration the fact that family doctors have the lowest salaries among all medical specialties (average starting salary for family doctors in the US is $197,655, while it is $308,317 in Canada) compared to surgical specialties ($340,000) or niche specialties like dermatology ($350,627) or anesthesiology ($366,640), then the rosy picture that is family medicine becomes muddier.
Another reason it can be a challenging profession is that family doctors take on a lot of responsibility. They are often the first point of contact for the entire healthcare system, especially for people in underserved areas, and unless a patient requires specialized care, they are also the last, meaning their workload can often become overwhelming.
Taken all together, these statistics point to the fact that a family doctor may be the easiest doctor to become in terms of length of time, but it is a challenging practice once you get in.
So, now that we’ve established that even though a family doctor is the easiest doctor to become in terms of length of time it takes to be one, it is not the easiest doctor to be, what are some of the other medical specialties that are the easiest doctors to be? What are the medical specialties that may take longer to become, but have higher rates of job satisfaction, higher salaries, better work-life balances?
Even though we took the time to make the case for how family doctors are among the unhappiest physicians, we should also say that overall, of all doctors in the US report being happy in their careers. So, despite each specialty having its own challenges, in general, being a doctor brings a great amount of satisfaction in various areas of a physician's life from their renumeration, work-life balance, level of patient interaction and sense of fulfillment.
With that said, and recognizing that all doctors are relatively happy, we can start talking about the medical specialties that have some of the happiest doctors in terms of:
- Lifestyle and autonomy
- Job satisfaction
- Professional and personal fulfillment
Two specialties that often report being “very satisfied” across all these categories are dermatology and gerontology, surprisingly enough.
Easiest Doctor to Become: Gerontologist
The reason that doctors in these specialties are satisfied vary. Gerontologists (specialists who treat the elderly) say that their patients are what bring them the most happiness. They report their patients are inspiring and joyous. But other factors include having a stable work-life, and the growth of this specialty as more and more people age.
Gerontology is a very specialized field of primary care medicine. It is not something that you have to spend years studying or training in, as you usually only need to have completed medical school, spent three years in a family medicine or , and then take an additional year in a geriatric residency or ; so, it takes only an additional two years more to become a gerontologist as it does a family doctor.
But the salary prospects are different from those of a family doctor. A starting salary for a gerontology specialist starts at $195,386 but can go as high as $437,000 for someone with years of experience, and which is much higher than for family doctors with the same amount of experience. So, it’s no wonder that gerontologists report having high levels of job satisfaction – great patients and high salary! And from this conclusion, we could also reasonably assume gerontologist is an easy doctor to be, based on the factors we talked about.
Easiest Doctor to Become: Dermatologist
But why is being a dermatologist an easy doctor to be? There are many reasons. For one, the pay is good. We mentioned the average salary for dermatologists and how high it is compared to other specialties, but even starting salaries for dermatologists are higher than some salaries for doctors in other specialties after years of practice and working in the field. Dermatology is also growing in terms of the number of graduates who have chosen this specialty in recent years.
Dermatology is also one of the most competitive residencies to enter. It has a fill rate of 72% for US MDs, but, has a 100% fill rate for all applicants, including DO graduates, even though there are only about 30 resident positions available in the US. Becoming a dermatologist takes, on average, about four years after you graduate medical school. You can enter either a categorical , or an advanced residency; the latter meaning that you can only apply if you are a resident, who has already completed a preliminary or beforehand.
A categorical dermatology residency usually takes about four years, but an advanced one takes three, without counting the year you spent in a preliminary residency. Dermatology residences are split up like this because it is not a required rotation in medical school, so you need an extra year to cover other specialties to enter it. So, in total, you can spend about the same amount of time to become a dermatologist as you would to be a family doctor, but, after everything (medical school, residency, fellowship) you’ll have better work hours, higher salary, and be happier with the work.
Even though we spent this entire article trying determine which are the easiest and, by contrast, the hardest, doctors to become, there are no right or wrong answers. There may be dermatologists who are unhappy and unsatisfied, while there might also be family doctors who love their patients and their work and wouldn’t trade them for anything. But the one certainty we can take away from all this is that being any kind of doctor is hard, and rarely easy.
If you are thinking about becoming a doctor and going to medical school, you should understand this and temper your expectations for what you think is the easiest doctor to become, since it is not always the easiest doctor to be. After all, you will spend more time being that doctor than you will becoming that doctor, so you should choose your specialty based on what you feel will be the most stimulating and fulfilling in every aspect, from lifestyle and money to satisfaction and patient interaction. But here are some other things to think about when deciding on your medical specialty.
1. Think Long-Term
Being a physician is a life-long profession, usually. You should keep this in mind when deciding what the best specialty is for you, rather than which doctor is the easiest to become. As the study about job dissatisfaction among radiologists who choose it for the lifestyle shows, if you are thinking about choosing a specialty that will be good for you in the short-term (highest starting salary or easier lifestyle), then, you might start to get bored and dissatisfied once you meet those short-term goals. But if you internalize the idea that there is more to being a doctor than money and lifestyle, you’ll choose a specialty that offers the most challenge and therefore is the most stimulating, both intellectually and professionally.
2. Do Your Research
A majority of medical students end up pursuing the specialty they decided on at the beginning of medical school, even after doing their medical rotations. But if this doesn’t apply to you and you are vacillating between one specialty and another, you need to do your homework. This means reaching out to people who are in these specialties (faculty, residents, , alumni) and ask them questions about job satisfaction, length of residency training, and personal opinions so you can have a better idea of which specialty appeals to you. You can also consult professional associations in these specialties to get even more current and up-to-date information on burnout rates, job prospects and career longevity.
3. Find your Motivation
Once you’ve decided on a specialty and you’re in a residency program, you need to stay motivated to get through the hard times that come with completing any residency, no matter the specialty. Of course, you can always try a if you find that the specialty you chose is not for you. But the fact that only 2.5% of residents do this means that switching residencies is incredibly rare, although not unheard of. But giving up on a specialty because it’s hard is something you need to fight against. Every residency is hard, but they eventually end so you need to remember why you decided on this specialty, and why you decided to become a doctor in the first place to get you through the toughest moments.
1. What is the easiest doctor to become?
In terms of how long it takes, a family doctor or internist is the easiest doctor to become.
2. What is the hardest doctor to become?
Again, judging by the length of time it takes, it is usually the surgical specialties that take the longest, such as , vascular surgery or . But based on the difficulty of the subject matter or content, some people say becoming an OBGYN or radiologist are the hardest.
3. Which doctors have the most job satisfaction?
We mentioned two above – gerontologist and dermatologist. But other specialties that report high job satisfaction include radiologists, pathologists, pediatricians and plastic surgeons.
4. Which doctors have the lowest job satisfaction?
Some of the doctors with the lowest job satisfaction include those in surgical specialties. The hours are long, the stakes are high and the culture among surgeons of enduring and not complaining or speaking out make it a stressful job for many.
5. What is the easiest doctor to be?
The easiest doctor to be is relative. While we mentioned specialties that have the most job satisfaction, it does not mean it is an “easy” job. The satisfaction that these doctors derive from their specialty may come from the opposite; that the job is challenging and difficult, so might make the job “easy” for some, may not mean it is satisfying or fulfilling.
6. What is the hardest doctor to be?
Again, what might be “hard” for one, might be “easy” for another in terms of job satisfaction and taking pleasure in one’s work. A family doctor may be the easiest doctor to become, but there are pressures and complications that come with being a family doctor that make it difficult.
7. Which are the highest paid doctors?
The highest paid doctors are usually in surgical specialties, such as ($548,186) or orthopedic surgery ($476,083), but these are also the specialties that take the longest to become, as you have to spend between five and six years in residency, and then gain experience in practice to earn that kind of salary.
8. Which are the lowest paid doctor?
Family doctors usually make the least compared to other specialties, as they are the easiest doctors to become in terms of length, so they do not command as high a salary, as surgeons or specialists.