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5 Medical Specialties Defining the Future of Medicine

The healthcare industry is expected to undergo dramatic changes over the next decade. These changes will impact the way providers practice medicine. Whether it’s the addition of new technologies, structural changes to the healthcare industry or new areas of health science making their way to the marketplace, the way care is provided will change.

Here is a list of the five fastest growing medical specialties expected to reflect these changes.

1. Critical Care Medicine

The need for more critical care professionals was highlighted during the pandemic when patients with severe COVID-19 systems stressed intensive care units nationwide. Critical care specialists work almost exclusively in hospital settings and care for patients within intensive care units. These medical doctors have wide-ranging skills that they use to coordinate the diagnosis and care of complex medical cases.

These advanced practitioners complete medical residencies in internal medicine and then move on to fellowships in critical care. Hospital ICU beds are expected to comprise a higher share of total hospital beds as the US population ages, generating future demand for this highly specialized field in the future.

2. Sports Medicine

Sports medicine professionals treat injuries and work with amateur and professional athletes to improve performance. A large baby boomer population is expected to rely on these professionals to help avoid disease and ensure a high quality of life as they age.

Sports medicine has long held a prominent position in medicine as the treatment specialty for professional athletes. The need for providers in the field is expected to grow with the increased emphasis on healthspan–as well as lifespan–as core components of medical care. There are a number of professions in sports medicine that are expected to grow over the next decade. These include certified athletic trainers (23%), physical therapists (21%), sports medicine doctors (7%) and orthopedic surgeons (14%).

3. Cancer Immunologist

Oncological immunotherapies are becoming standard treatment for many cancer patients. Decades ago, Immuno-Oncology existed only in the laboratory. Now, new treatments are making their way to patients. This larger volume of treatments and the corresponding cost reduction is good news in light of the recent rise in cancer cases. This is expected to set off a cycle of demand as an aging population and increased life expectancy for many cancer patients bring these professionals to the forefront.

The demand for oncology services is expected to extend beyond physicians. Nurse oncologists are important members of the oncology treatment team and can act as the primary point of care for many cancer patients. Nurses certified in oncology have an additional 1,000 documented hours of oncology care. The demand for registered nurses is expected to grow by 9%.

4. Pediatric Anesthesiology

A pediatric anesthesiologist is an anesthesiologist who specializes in the treatment of children. Children with injuries and illnesses that require surgery can be anesthetized by professionals who understand the unique needs of these patients. These professionals complete at least one year of specialized training in anesthesia care of infants and children. After medical school, they will complete a residency in anesthesiology, moving on to a fellowship in pediatrics. The number of pediatric anesthesiologists is expected to grow by over 30% by 2035.

5. Lifestyle Medicine Physician

There are multiple paths to becoming a lifestyle medicine specialist. Practitioners specializing in lifestyle medicine require a master’s degree or doctorate in a health field such as a medical doctor (MD), a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO), a nurse practitioner (NP), or a pharmacist (PharmD). These professionals will also have experience working as health providers in their respective fields. Candidates for this certification may also have advanced degrees in nutrition, psychology or exercise physiology, among others. The leading professional body of lifestyle medicine, the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, awards certifications to practitioners who have 30 hours of continuing medical education in approved courses.

The American Board of Lifestyle Medicine (ABLM) began offering the certification in 2017 and has certified over 300 practitioners as of 2022. As the name suggests, lifestyle medicine practitioners coming from a range of disciplines focus on how patients can improve their health by focusing on their behaviors and choices. Therapies range from nutritional interventions to exercise regimens to sleep hygiene routines. Lifestyle medicine is a rapidly growing field and its pace of growth is expected to grow in the coming decade.