6 Non-Traditional Medical Specialties Trending in 2024

by Amy Brooksbank | Feb 26, 2024 |
6 Non-Traditional Medical Specialties Trending in 2024

The field of medicine is undergoing significant changes in 2024, with traditional specialties coexisting alongside newer, emerging disciplines. As healthcare needs evolve and technology advances, physicians are exploring diverse areas for new solutions. Medical specialties from enduring fields like internal medicine and surgery to innovative domains such as cancer immunology and clinical informatics, offer an ever-broadening set of career choices for doctors.

  • Surgery vs. office-based care
  • Level of patient interaction
  • Work-life balance
  • Patient population being treated.

That’s according to the American Medical Association (AMA). Another factor they cite, which is critical to consider when choosing a specialty, is competitiveness. Of the US MD seniors who matched to a residency last year, fewer than half matched to their first-choice programs. There are no data from the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) 2023 Report on Residents on the emerging, non-traditional specialties described below. However, as these areas continue to develop, they might entice residency candidates into novel areas that aim to keep up with both evolving technologies and ways to meet patient and practice needs. To better understand the prospects for employment in these disciplines and how to assess them against the AMA’s criteria above, doctors can consult with physician recruitment firms for their expertise and advice.

locum tenens

According to the AAMC report, nearly three out of four medical students change their preferred residency specialty between taking the Matriculating Student Questionnaire (MSQ) and the Graduation Questionnaire (GQ). Currently, residents’ preferences for traditional specialties such as family medicine, pediatrics and anesthesiology, are marked by intense competition and a limited number of available positions. In fact, the ratio of applicants to available positions in certain traditional specialties often exceeds three to one. The good news is there are emerging specialties that have been trending over the past several years that expand the options for physician recruitment into exciting new areas. Of the six specialties detailed below, there are three that might sound enticing to more tech-minded physicians: cancer immunologist, clinical informatician, and medical virtualist; and three that focus more on the lifestyle of the patient or practitioner: nocturnist, lifestyle medicine physician, and longevity specialist.

Technology-Oriented Medical Specialties

1. Cancer Immunologist: Pioneering Immunotherapy in Oncology

Harnessing the immune system to fight malignancies is a burgeoning area of medicine that’s creating opportunities for new doctors. After radiation, chemotherapy, surgery and targeted therapy, a study published in Molecular Biology Reports cites immunotherapy as the “fifth pillar” of cancer treatment. This discipline investigates the interplay between the immune system and cancerous cells within the human body. Moreover, immunotherapeutic approaches hold the potential for personalized treatment regimens, tailored to individual patient profiles, thus offering a more precise and effective next-level means of combating cancer. Recognizing the importance of immunotherapy, physician staffing professionals are integrating cancer immunologists into their teams to advance oncological care.

Requirements: programs take about two years, and this specialty offers both research and clinical paths.

physician recruitment

2. Medical Virtualist: Expanding Access to Remote Care

Medical virtualists employ telecommunication technologies to provide remote consultations and specialized medical care to patients in remote or underserved areas. The medical industry increasingly has been leveraging the benefits of telemedicine. Medical virtualists are at the forefront, delivering virtual care and thereby expanding access to healthcare services and improving patient outcomes.

While it might seem that a telehealth visit is simply a normal visit over video, there’s actually a specialized skillset needed to deliver remote healthcare effectively. Fierce Healthcare reports that as the demand for telehealth continues to climb, there’s a movement to train certain doctors to do telehealth exclusively, becoming virtualists.

Requirements: Several medical schools have started offering telehealth courses and certifications. For example, Chatham University in Pittsburgh has launched a four-course telehealth certificate program for medical professionals. The certification is available on its own or as part of Chatham’s Master of Science in Healthcare Informatics degree.

3. Clinical Informatician: Bridging Medicine and Technology

Clinical informatics, also known as health or biomedical informatics, is an interdisciplinary field that attracts doctors who seek to combine medicine, information science, and computer science. Clinical informaticians bridge the gap between medicine and technology by utilizing data analytics and electronic health records to enhance patient care and clinical decision-making. With the integration of technology into healthcare, the demand for skilled informaticians is rising, as they play a crucial role in driving process improvements and optimizing healthcare delivery.

The skillsets needed for informaticians include a knowledge of patient care and the needs of both patients and healthcare professionals. They require the ability to analyze, design and implement information and communication systems, and refine clinical processes. This attention to optimizing vital systems is in service of improving patient care and outcomes and strengthening doctor-patient relations.

Requirements: The practice pathway to becoming a board-certified clinical informatician either requires three years of experience in a clinical informatics setting or pursuing a master’s or Ph.D. in informatics. Alternatively, after completing a primary residency, candidates can pursue a two-year fellowship.

Lifestyle Medical Specialties

medical specialties

4. Nocturnist: Addressing 24/7 Healthcare Needs

As healthcare systems evolve, the role of nocturnists (short for nocturnal hospitalists) has become essential in providing continuous patient care during nighttime hours. Nocturnists play a vital role in managing emergent medical conditions and optimizing patient outcomes when daytime providers are unavailable. Hospitals are increasingly relying on a group of professionals Stanford Medicine refers to as “specialists and generalists rolled into one” to ensure seamless healthcare delivery round the clock.

Nocturnists are responsible for admitting patients who come in at night and managing patients until the morning. Because there are fewer specialists available overnight, this system means that nocturnists exercise more autonomy and judgment than otherwise and have less of an administrative burden.

Requirements: a nocturnist requires residency training in internal medicine or family medicine, both of which last three years.

5. Lifestyle Medicine Physician: Addressing Chronic Disease Epidemics

Lifestyle medicine physicians tackle the root causes of chronic diseases by emphasizing lifestyle interventions such as nutrition, exercise, stress management, and sleep hygiene. According the American Board of Lifestyle Medicine (ABLM) “Lifestyle medicine is a medical specialty that uses therapeutic lifestyle interventions as a primary modality to treat chronic conditions including, but not limited to, cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.” With the rise of chronic diseases like obesity and diabetes, lifestyle medicine is gaining prominence in healthcare delivery, as physicians aim to empower patients to adopt evidence-based healthy lifestyle behaviors and improve their overall health.

Requirements: Recently, the ABLM began offering certification in the field. One way to become a board-certified lifestyle medicine physician is experiential. It requires students to have worked as an attending physician for at least two years and be board-certified in any specialty that’s recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties or the American Osteopathic Association. The other way is educational. This path requires completing the lifestyle medicine coursework during training, passing the exam after finishing residency, then being certified after passing the primary specialty board exam.

Physician staffing

6. Longevity Specialist: Promoting Healthy Aging

Longevity specialists focus on optimizing health span and preventing age-related diseases through personalized interventions tailored to individual needs. Health span is roughly defined as the length of time in one’s life during which an individual is in reasonably good health. According to a study by npj Regenerative Medicine, between 1950 and 2020, the average life span increased by 26 years, from 47 to 73 years of age. Yet during that same period, the average health span increased by only nine years. With an aging population, there is a growing demand for longevity specialists who focus on preventive medicine, nutrition, and lifestyle interventions to promote healthy aging and reduce the gap between life span and health span.

Requirements: Longevity specialist is a relatively new discipline. Currently, there are online certifications for residents such as the one offered by the Academy for Anti-Aging Medicine. Requirements to apply for certification include holding at least a master’s level degree in a health-related field from an accredited university (or bachelor’s degree for registered nurses) and an active healthcare license. Physicians must be certified by a medical specialty board and have completed two years of practice.

Will the Trends in Tech and Lifestyle Medical Specialties Continue?

Current trends in medical specialties reflect not only the dynamic nature of healthcare but also the commitment of physicians to adapt and excel in a way that more reliably delivers high-quality patient care. As evidenced by the preferences of medical residents and the growing demand for specialized expertise, the healthcare industry is undergoing a paradigm shift towards embracing technology and innovation as well as addressing evolving patient and practitioner needs.

The options for medical specialties in 2024 are diverse. The choices are characterized by both continuity and evolution, with traditional specialties coexisting alongside emerging disciplines. While traditional fields like internal medicine and surgery maintain their allure and competitiveness, newer specialties such as cancer immunology, clinical informatics, and lifestyle medicine are reshaping the future of healthcare delivery. With a willingness to adopt new and creative solutions, and the support of physician recruitment firms facilitating the integration of new talents into various medical fields, the future of medicine promises to be both dynamic and transformative.


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