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The specialty decision

Career program helps osteopathic medical students explore specialties

By Richard Heck

When Robert Polite, D.O. (’99), began his OU-COM studies in 1995,
he wanted to be a surgeon.

“I had this romantic idea,” Polite explained. “I wanted to be the first black (osteopathic) neurosurgeon.”

He maintained that vision through graduation and into his general surgery internship at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center in Toledo, where he participated in as many surgeries as possible. Then, about halfway through the internship, his dream began to change.

“I realized that I didn’t want to live the lifestyle of a surgeon,” Polite recalled. “I didn’t like the hours or the person that I was becoming. I really like people, so I decided instead on family practice.” Following the surgery internship, Polite moved to the Mount Carmel Health System in Columbus, where he entered a residency program in family practice, a field he continues to enjoy today.

Although some students know which specialty they ultimately will pursue, Polite’s experience is common. Today, with more than 200 specialties and subspecialties to choose from, finding the right fit—and making that choice before their fourth year of medical school—can be a difficult experience for many students.

OU-COM’s new Careers in Medicine program is designed to help osteopathic medical students find the specialties best suited to them.

“Our students have an incredible number of options when it comes to choosing a specialty,” said Holly Jacobs, associate director of student affairs. “We developed this program to help our students navigate the decision-making process and make good, early choices in selecting osteopathic programs.”

Jacobs explained that, with the number of traditional osteopathic rotating internships decreasing, today’s medical students often don’t have the option of a post-graduate general internship year in which to explore different specialties before deciding on a residency program. Instead, for most specialties, students now must apply for residency programs early in their fourth year, sometimes before they have had firsthand experience with that specialty through a student clinical rotation.

The four-phase Careers in Medicine program pairs students with faculty physician mentors who can offer career advice, and it provides students with an online suite of tools for self-assessment, medical specialty evaluation and residency application.

“We’re very pleased that our faculty members, many of whom are OU-COM alumni, are supplying career counseling,” said Jacobs. The program is currently recruiting for additional faculty mentors, including clinical faculty members who serve as preceptors throughout the Centers for Osteopathic Research and Education (CORE) system, OU-COM’s statewide consortium of teaching hospitals.

“Many of our alumni participate in similar programs with other medical schools, and when we’ve presented this program to them, they’ve been really excited about it,” said Jill Harman, director of alumni affairs. “Our graduates want to know the challenges students are facing, and they are definitely in the best positions to help current students with career questions.”

As part of the program’s online component, housed at, OU-COM utilizes the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) Careers in Medicine online program, a resource many students already use to find information about specialties and how to apply to residency programs.

The OU-COM program builds on those AAMC resources by providing information about osteopathic medical residency programs. The two web sites are integrated, and students can maintain information gathered from both sites in their individual profile pages.

“I think it is a nice application to keep things in one location,” said Korrie Waters, OMS II.

Jacobs explained that this new web portal guides medical students through a four-step, structured career planning process:

1.      Understanding oneself:  Students assess their interests, lifestyle values, personality types and practice needs.

2.      Exploring options: Through clinical rotations and research, students learn about a variety of specialties.

3.      Choosing a specialty: Students compare their self-assessment results with their specialty research to find the best match.

4.      Getting into a residency: Students create a curriculum vita and personal statement. They also are advised to contact the staff of programs they are interested in to understand each application process and other issues such as finances, licensure and possible relocation.

At a kick-off event sponsored by student affairs, several students explored the new OU-COM Careers in Medicine web site. “It’s stressful trying to decide what specialty to choose,” Stephanie Zaugg, OMS II, said. “But this program seems to give a lot of information that should help me make the decision.”  

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Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine
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Last updated: 01/28/2016