I originally thought of this as the top 5 reasons to do a residency, but there’s really only one reason to do a residency: to become a specialist. So I thought I would focus on the end goal instead.
1) You want different intellectual challenges. I think it is easy for people to assume that specialists are somehow “smarter” or like intellectual challenges more than, say, a general practitioner. I don’t think that’s true- good GPs absolutely have intellectual stimulation and challenges. But the nature of those challenges are different. Specialists tend to grapple more with “I have no idea what’s wrong with this patient” than GPs. They have to hit the literature, see if something similar happens in other species, consult with colleagues, and try things out. GPs can do that, too, but generally if they have a really complex case they can refer it. Specialists are the end of the line- if they can’t figure the case out, there’s no one else to go to.
2) You like academia. Although there are some GPs in academia, the vast majority of clinical faculty are specialists. It’s no secret that I think academia is awesome. If you agree, becoming a specialist is like writing your own ticket. Almost every specialty is in demand in academia all the time.
3) You want to earn more money. Not every specialist makes more money than a GP, but in general being a specialist will get you a higher paycheck. If you have massive student loans or an expensive lifestyle (even though the latter won’t make you happy), becoming a specialist will probably help with your financial goals.
4) You want to know things. When we interviewed vet students about their post-graduation plans, those interested in specializing were very excited to KNOW things. When you specialize, you get an amazingly deep knowledge of a subject. There are still many things I don’t know about anesthesia, but I know a lot more than almost any GP. If you’re excited by the “why” of medicine, becoming a specialist is pretty great.
5) You don’t want to be a GP. I have to be honest, this is my reason. I didn’t want to see skin problems and ain’t doin’ right (ADR) cases all day. I wanted to continue formal education (I LOVE school!), be challenged, and have interesting novel experiences at work every day. I think GPs probably get a lot of satisfaction from their relationships with clients and seeing an animal year after year. That just isn’t interesting to me. It’s not better or worse- it’s just me being honest with myself. If the idea of general practice gets you down, maybe becoming a specialist is a good choice for you.
I want to reiterate that being a specialist isn’t “better” than being a GP. I worry that there is a judgement often passed that specialists are better. It’s just a different job. In the same way that a specialist isn’t better than the janitor- they just have different jobs. Society happens to compensate one better than the other, but that doesn’t mean that PERSON has greater value.