Why a medical career and what makes a good doctor? Beliefs of incoming United States medical students

Educ Health (Abingdon). 2009 Dec;22(3):331. Epub 2009 Dec 1.


Introduction: Beginning medical students' beliefs about the medical profession have been well studied internationally but have only been minimally studied in the United States (U.S.) recently. Up-to-date research on U.S. medical students' beliefs is warranted so educators can employ these predispositions as a baseline for curriculum and student professional development.

Methods: We conducted focus groups with a first-year class (n=189) of U.S. medical students at the beginning of their academic year. In an iterative theming process, investigators worked in dyads and subsequently as a group to develop a list of preliminary themes expressed in the focus groups. Investigators individually sorted preliminary themes into similar categories. All sorted preliminary themes and categories were placed in a matrix from which final themes were derived.

Findings: Investigators found eight themes for the question "Why pursue a career in medicine?" and six themes for "What makes a good doctor?". Students expected medicine to be intellectually and personally fulfilling, they expected to be respected by the community, indicated that early experiences with medicine impacted their career choices, and anticipated that a medical career would yield financial security. A good doctor was described as a committed, smart, decisive leader who enthusiastically partners with patients via effective interpersonal skills.

Discussion: Beginning U.S. medical students hold multi-faceted beliefs about medicine that are similar to international medical students' beliefs. Themes related to patient-centeredness, decisive leadership, and intellectual curiosity have particular utility in curriculum and professional development and should not be ignored. Administrators seeking to expand the physician workforce should consider early experiences, status, and monetary rewards.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude*
  • Career Choice*
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physicians / standards*
  • Students, Medical / psychology*
  • United States
  • Young Adult