In the context of doctor shortages and mal-distributions in many Western countries, prestige and lifestyle friendliness have emerged as significant factors for medical students when they choose a medical specialty. In this study, we surveyed two samples of Australian medical students and had them rank 19 medical specialties for prestige (N = 530) and lifestyle friendliness (N = 644). The prestige rankings were generally consistent with previous ratings by physicians, lay people and advanced medical students, with surgery, internal, and intensive care medicine ranking the highest, and public health, occupational, and non-specialist hospital medicine ranking lowest. This suggests that medical students have incorporated prevailing prestige perceptions of practicing doctors and the community. Lifestyle rankings were markedly different from prestige rankings, where dermatology, general practice, and public health medicine were ranked the most lifestyle friendly, and surgery, obstetrics/gynaecology and intensive care were ranked least friendly. Student lifestyle rankings differed from physician and author-generated rankings, indicating that student preferences should be considered rather than relying on ratings created by others. Few differences were found for gender or year of study, signifying perceptions of prestige and lifestyle friendliness were consistent across the students sampled. Having access to and understanding these rankings will assist career counsellors to aid student and junior doctor decision-making and aid workforce planners to address gaps in medical specialty health services.
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