Background: Research on the correlation between personality and students' specialty choice is helpful in their career counselling process and in predicting the future distribution of the specialties in a country.
Aims: This study is the first of its kind in the Arab world. The research questions were: (1) What is the influence of gender on the personality profiles of medical students? (2) What are the personality profiles of students categorized according to their preferred specialist choices? (3) What are the preferred career choices of students categorized according to the stage of their medical education?
Method: A cross-sectional study was performed at King Khalid University Medical School including 590 students during the academic year 2010-2011. A long version of the Zuckerman-Kuhlman personality questionnaire measuring five personality factors was used. Students were also asked for their specialty interests. Students were asked by means of a written questionnaire.
Results: Study response was 92.5%. Surgery was the single most popular specialty amongst both male and female students. Males had significantly higher scores on the 'impulsive sensation seeking' scale and students preferring a surgery specialty had the highest score on the 'impulsive sensation seeking', 'neuroticism-anxiety', 'aggression-hostility' and 'sociability' scales. Hospital-based, surgical and primary care specialties became more popular as students progressed through their undergraduate years.
Conclusions: Different personality types have distinct preferences in medical students' choice of careers. Personality and specialty choice research can enhance career counselling of medical students and fresh graduates. This also has implications for predicting the specialty distribution of the future health careers.