Generalist vs. specialist: which are you?

Read PracticeLink articles by Alexandra Cappetta
Alexandra Cappetta

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Do you see yourself as someone who excels in the details within a single area, or do you prefer to know a little about a lot of subjects?

How you answered this question might align with your path as a health care worker.   

When it comes to specialists and generalists, there are distinctions; however, one skill set isn’t necessarily stronger than the other. The two simply differ based on the depth and breadth. If you’re a specialist, you have deepened expertise in a specific area. If you’re a generalist, you have broader expertise in multiple areas.

You’re likely aware of these differences, but it’s helpful to keep in mind certain environments might offer more potential for you and your career depending on the scope of your profession.

Where specialists succeed

If you’re a specialist, you’re a reliable expert with in-depth knowledge of how to best provide a particular type of care to a particular group of patients. With your focused skill set, practicing in an urban setting could be a promising option.

Urban areas have higher populations and, therefore, a greater range of potential needs to fill. With more diversity and specificity to the type of services being sought, specialists of all types are usually in high demand to keep up with the patient volume.

This isn’t to say generalists can’t be successful in a big city. But when there’s a greater variety of patient needs, it may be harder to stand out. If you’re open to new opportunities and considering where to practice, consider talking to other specialists in small towns and big cities before making your decision. They may be able to provide helpful insight about what it’s like to practice in contrasting locations.

Where generalists excel

Generalists are sometimes considered jacks of all trades. If that’s you, your skill set isn’t utilized for just one area of medicine, and you can provide a variety of treatments for a variety of patients. With your broad skill set, rural communities can provide a lot of opportunity.

Generalists might thrive in these environments because they have the means to treat any individual within the community.

Although specialists can still excel in rural areas, it can depend on the size of the community. If a small town only has a few thousand people, the presence of each type of specialist may not be practical. Instead, there’s typically a greater need for physicians who have the expertise to treat a range of patient issues.

It’s not a bad idea to consult other generalists about their experience and where they’ve felt most fulfilled.

Where you thrive

Being a specialist or generalist is not the only factor that determines where you’ll find your best fit, but it may have some influence on the number or types of opportunities available in each location. 

However, just because you’re a specialist doesn’t mean a rural area isn’t right for you; likewise, just because you’re a generalist doesn’t mean you won’t shine in a big city.

When you think about your ideal practice, there are multiple aspects you’ll need to consider apart from your title. There’s the practice type – whether group practice, private practice, larger health system or another setting; the culture of the health system; and, of course, the location in which you’d be living and practicing.

There’s not one “right” answer to the type of practice or setting you should choose based on whether you’re a specialist or generalist. Ultimately, you’ll be most successful when you’ve taken all these factors into account to determine the best next step for you and your career path.

Read PracticeLink articles by Alexandra Cappetta

Alexandra Cappetta

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