checklist
  1. Graduate from your program 
  2. Study harder than you ever have
  3. Pass your boards!
  4. Find a job- but first → READ THIS

The checklist is almost complete.  The years of hard work are about to pay off . . .  finally.  I am sure you felt you would never get here at times, but you are ready to find your first job as a provider.  This time can hold much stress.  How do you know which job/field to choose?  The lucky ones know exactly what field they want to work in.  They have dreamt of working in Pediatrics their whole life, so the choice is easy.  However, the vast and varied options can overwhelm most of us. 

What are the things to consider when looking for your first job?  What is it like being out of school and practicing your first year?  How do you pick the right supervising physician and environment to continue learning and growing?  Your skills are now your biggest asset, so how do you increase your “marketability” as a new provider?  While some may opt for a specialized field, there are compelling reasons why starting a career in a broad specialty can be advantageous.  This blog post will explore the benefits of beginning your professional journey in a broad specialty.  

The term broad refers to the range of assessed patient types and complaints.  Urgent Care, Emergency Medicine, and Family Medicine are the most common fields considered broad.  These three share the common characteristic of dealing with a wide array of diverse patients and conditions.  Furthermore, they often involve collaboration with professionals from other specialties. 

One notable difference between these three lies in the acuity.  Emergency Medicine, renowned for its fast-paced and adrenaline-filled environment, is unparalleled in the initial management of critically ill or injured patients.  On the other hand, Urgent Care and Family Medicine, while still experiencing urgent medical needs, generally operate at a lower acuity level, allowing for more comprehensive evaluations and examinations.

In Family Medicine, an unmatched feature is the emphasis on continuity of care.  Practitioners are privileged to develop long-lasting relationships with their patients, enabling them to understand their medical history and needs better.  These relationships contribute significantly to ensuring comprehensive care throughout a patient’s life. 

Beyond these three well-known fields, broad specialties can also include Pediatrics and Internal Medicine.  Both areas also see a wide range of medical conditions but serve a narrower demographic range.  Pediatrics is exclusive to children and adolescents and addresses health challenges that can arise during various stages of development.  At the same time, Internal Medicine caters primarily to adult patients with complex and intriguing medical conditions.

Here are 7 topics that are advantageous for starting your career in a broad specialty.  We will contrast these topics with experiences in a narrow specialized field, such as Orthopedics.

  1. Exposure to a Diverse Patient Population

During your medical education, you’re exposed to as much as you possibly can be, but there will be a TON of things in your first few years that you have never seen.  This trend will persist for several years into your practice.  Even five years in, I still see things I have never seen before.  The initial year as a practicing provider proves demanding, irrespective of your chosen job.  Personally, I was grateful I was “thrown” to the wolves in the Urgent Care, diversifying my medical knowledge in all life stages, from infants to adults.  The goal is to use the breadth of knowledge you have gained through your education and put into practice all the “book” things we were taught in school. 

In stark contrast, a narrow field such as Orthopedics offers focused and in-depth training specific to the musculoskeletal system.  As a result, practitioners in this specialty acquire unique expertise in diagnosing and treating orthopedic-specific conditions such as fractures and sports injuries. 

The dynamic nature of medical practice in broad and narrow fields ensures that practitioners continually level up their education and experience new learning opportunities.  However, while broad specialties provide a diverse scope of medical experiences and patient demographics, narrow fields like Orthopedics offer the advantage of in-depth knowledge and honed skills in a specific area of medicine.  While in PA school, one of my preceptors described his knowledge as an Emergency Room Physician as, “I don’t know everything about anything, but I know a little bit about everything.”

  1. Versatility and adaptability

It is challenging to shift your focus from being a student to being an income-producing asset for your financial future or family.  For most APP providers, you will be your family’s primary breadwinner.  One significant benefit of staying in a broad specialty is developing a diverse skill set that can be used in various roles and positions.  Again, my first job in Urgent Care pushed me as a newly minted provider.  My skill set advanced from being a brand-new provider to being able to diagnose and treat hundreds of different medical conditions efficiently and effectively.  This multifaceted expertise is a hallmark of broad specialties, setting them apart from narrowly specialized fields where practitioners might excel in managing only a limited number of medical conditions. 

My decision to remain in a broad specialty was firmly rooted in my aspiration to avoid restricting my knowledge to a single area of medicine.  Urgent care gave me the confidence to see any patient that walked in the door, regardless of the complaint, and either treat them appropriately or street them to a higher level of care when necessary.

In contrast, practitioners in a narrowly focused field may become experts in a specific domain but lack the same breadth of experience as those in a broad specialty.  Their skills may be honed in a particular area, but they lack the same adaptability to handle various medical conditions or patient demographics.

  1. Increased marketability

My primary goal was to cultivate a well-rounded skill set as a healthcare professional, thereby enhancing my marketability when transitioning to a new specialty or pursuing a different position in the medical field.  My broad skill set and proficiency in handling diverse patients made my transition to an Emergency Medicine position seamless.  Being a well-rounded professional allows me to excel in my chosen specialty and positions me as a valuable asset capable of contributing to multiple facets within a healthcare organization.

Now, let’s contrast this with Orthopedics.  While a specialized focus on Orthopedics provides in-depth knowledge, as we have previously discussed, it may limit the versatility and adaptability, which would limit your marketability.  Diversity in your skill set enables you to navigate various roles and responsibilities and makes you an invaluable asset to an organization. 

  1. Exploration and self-discovery

Self-discovery is an excellent thing to consider in your first year of practice.  It is essential to develop “your practice.”  Opting for a broad specialty at the beginning of your career opens doors to diverse pathologies and patient demographics, allowing you to refine and enhance your skill set.  As you gain exposure to various conditions, you fine-tune your patient flow, charting methods, and preferred resources for efficient and effective practice management.

In contrast, in a more narrowly specialized field like Orthopedics, you will have a different level of exposure to medical conditions, which can limit the scope for self-discovery and refining one’s practice.  Also, in a specialized field, you develop a similar approach to your supervising physician because she is the expert.  There is little room for autonomy in a highly specialized practice, so your scope is potentially narrowed for future opportunities outside this field.

  1. Networking opportunities

Embracing a broad specialty in your career opens many opportunities to connect with a diverse network of professionals from different backgrounds.  For instance, in an urgent care setting, you make referrals to various specialists and communicate with them to ensure comprehensive patient care.  Similarly, frequent consultation with multiple specialists is a daunting, everyday task in the ER.  Building relationships and connections within diverse circles can open doors to new opportunities, collaborations, and mentorship that may not be as readily available in a narrower specialization.

The connections formed within a narrowly specialized field might not encompass the same wide range of professionals that a broad specialty allows, as the scope of interdisciplinary collaborations is comparatively narrower in a specialized field.

Networking
  1. Entrepreneurial opportunities

 A broad specialty provides a solid foundation for entrepreneurship.  With a diverse skill set and understanding of multiple areas, you can identify market gaps and seize opportunities that might go unnoticed by others.  As an entrepreneur, the ability to wear multiple hats and navigate various aspects of business can increase your chances of success.  In some states, Nurse Practitioners can even open and own their own practice.  And even in the states where this is not allowed, you always have the opportunity to partner with physicians in an urgent care or family practice business.  Contrast this with a more specialized field; you will never be able to operate individually or own a practice in a specialized field.  While specialized medical knowledge is undoubtedly valuable, it may limit your ability to identify diverse business prospects outside that realm.

The most marketable asset you will have as a healthcare professional is your skill set and the effectiveness of utilizing those skills.  A broad specialty makes you adaptable to change, versatile in your skill set, gives you comprehensive knowledge, provides you with interdisciplinary collaboration, and increases your leadership skills. 

  1. Career growth and advancement
growth

To thrive in your career, it is crucial to continually explore ways to leverage your knowledge and experience for professional growth.  With this forward-thinking mindset and a broad understanding of organizational functions and disciplines, you can position yourself for future leadership opportunities.  Examples could be overseeing and coordinating diverse teams, driving organizational growth, starting a medical business, or moving into education and training.  Starting your career in a broad specialty equips you with a versatile skill set that can be applied across various healthcare domains.

Our training as Advanced Practice Providers is short and intense compared to Medical Doctors.  Choosing a broad specialty has its advantages in the areas we spoke about above, but it also gives you the time and experience you need to decide what you want to do with your career.  This process will look different for each of you.  You may discover a passion for orthopedics or dermatology or that you love performing procedures.  Once you have spent time serving a wide array of patients, a clear path for your career may naturally develop.    

I am grateful for my path in starting my APP career within a broad specialty in both urgent care and emergency medicine.  My experiences in these specialties have shaped me into the professional I am today.  In urgent care, I cultivated speed and efficiency, constantly being challenged to provide high-quality care expediently.  Working as a solo provider honed my leadership skills and helped me make critical decisions as I oversaw the clinic.  My time in the ER taught me the skills required to thrive in such a demanding setting.  It taught me to be adaptable, be an effective communicator to my patients and ancillary staff members, and maintain composure in a high-pressure, high-stakes environment.  These skills serve as a solid foundation for new opportunities in my career. 

These items are essential to remember when choosing your first job as a new practicing provider.  Starting a career in a broad specialty can be rewarding, offering a wealth of experiences and skill development that will benefit you as a healthcare professional throughout your professional journey.