Choosing general surgery: insights into career choices of current medical students

Arch Surg. 2002 Aug;137(8):941-5; discussion 945-7. doi: 10.1001/archsurg.137.8.941.


Hypothesis: The number of unfilled general surgery programs in the United States increased from 4 in 1999 to 41 in 2001. This study seeks to determine if changes in student attitudes occurring during their medical school careers and during the third-year general surgery clerkship contribute to a decline in interest in a surgical career.

Design: Prospective survey of medical students at a public medical school in California.

Participants and methods: Each medical student received a survey via the Internet. Responses were anonymous. Once quantified, chi(2) analysis was used for comparison and analysis of survey results. Comparisons were made between individual class years and on the basis of whether the respondent completed the third-year general surgery clerkship.

Results: Of 368 surveys sent, 232 (63%) were successfully completed and included in the study. Comparison of students' attitudes before and after completion of their general surgery clerkship showed that following surgical course exposure more students believed surgery lacked breadth of expertise, limitations over stress, control over one's time, regularity of schedule, adequacy of leisure time, and income commensurate to workload (P<.05). These results are also consistent in comparisons between individual class years.

Conclusions: Data suggest that medical students seem to be more concerned with issues of "controllable lifestyle" such as adequacy of family and/or leisure time, high level of stress, and amount of work and commitment. The erosion of income differential between demanding and less taxing specialties was also an important cause cited for the flagging interest in surgical disciplines.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Career Choice*
  • Data Collection
  • Female
  • General Surgery*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Students, Medical / psychology*