Personality and specialty interest in medical students

Med Teach. 2008;30(4):400-6. doi: 10.1080/01421590802043835.


Background: Research on the relationship between personality and specialty interest is important because of its implications in student career counseling and in forecasting future specialty distribution.

Aim: This study was designed to test the following hypotheses: 1. Students interested in 'surgical' specialties would obtain higher scores on a measure of 'impulsive sensation seeking' and lower scores on a measure of 'neuroticism-anxiety'. 2. Students interested in 'hospital-based' specialties would score lower on a measure of 'sociability' whereas those interested in 'primary care' would score higher on this measure. In addition to these two hypotheses, gender differences on personality were also examined.

Method: Study participants were 1,076 students who matriculated at Jefferson Medical College between 2002 to 2006. A short version of the Zuckerman-Kuhlman personality questionnaire (ZKPQ) measuring five personality factors of 'impulsive sensation Seeking', 'neuroticism-anxiety', 'aggression-hostility', 'sociability', and 'activity' was completed by research participants at the beginning of medical school. Students were also asked to note their specialty interests.

Results: Multivariate statistical analyses confirmed the first and partially confirmed the second research hypotheses. Results also showed that men scored higher on 'impulsive sensation seeking,' and women outscored men in the 'neuroticism-Anxiety' and 'activity' scales.

Conclusions: Findings suggest that information about the personalities of medical students can help to predict their career interests. Implications for career counseling are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Career Mobility
  • Choice Behavior
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Personality*
  • Philadelphia
  • Specialization* / statistics & numerical data
  • Students, Medical / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires