The variable influence of lifestyle and income on medical students' career specialty choices: data from two U.S. medical schools, 1998-2004

Acad Med. 2005 Sep;80(9):809-14. doi: 10.1097/00001888-200509000-00005.


Purpose: Recent reports on medical students' career choices suggest that lifestyle increasingly influences career decisions. The authors addressed the changing influence of lifestyle and income on career choice, how these influences differ by specialty, and the specific careers students identify as lifestyle friendly.

Method: From 1998 to 2004, 1,334 (73%) fourth-year medical students from Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University (no. = 485 graduates) and New York Medical College (no. = 1,348 graduates) completed a questionnaire that addressed career specialty preferences, as well as income and lifestyle concerns. Students were asked to rate career choice influences on a four-point scale (1 = no influence, 4 = major influence). Factor analysis of these influences identified seven factors including one each for lifestyle and income.

Results: A total of 1,327 students indicated a career preference. Lifestyle (p = .018) and income (p = .011) were found to increasingly influence medical students' career choices during the study period. Overall, the authors found significant differences between specialties in the relative contribution of these factors. Students' perceptions of specialties existed on a continuum of lifestyle friendly (e.g., radiology) to lifestyle unfriendly (e.g., obstetrics-gynecology). Contrary to previous reports, the students' responses indicate they perceived the primary care specialties as lifestyle intermediate compared to other specialties.

Conclusions: Lifestyle and income have become more important to medical students in their career choice, and the relative influence of these factors varies considerably between specialties. This study suggests that previous efforts to dichotomize careers into those with controllable and uncontrollable lifestyles may mask important complexities.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Career Choice*
  • Economics, Medical
  • Education, Medical*
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Female
  • Health Workforce*
  • Humans
  • Income*
  • Life Style*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Schools, Medical
  • Specialization*
  • Students, Medical / psychology*
  • Students, Medical / statistics & numerical data
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States