Medical specialty preferences in early medical school training in Canada

Int J Med Educ. 2017 Nov 14;8:400-407. doi: 10.5116/ijme.59f4.3c15.


Objectives: To understand what medical students consider when choosing their specialty, prior to significant clinical exposure to develop strategies to provide adequate career counseling.

Methods: A cross-sectional study was performed by distributing optional questionnaires to 165 first-year medical students at the University of Ottawa in their first month of training with a sample yield of 54.5% (n=90). Descriptive statistics, analysis of variance, Spearman's rank correlation, Cronbach's alpha coefficient, Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin Measure, and exploratory factor analyses were used to analyze the anonymized results.

Results: "Job satisfaction", "lifestyle following training" and, "impact on the patient" were the three highest rated considerations when choosing a specialty. Fifty-two and seventeen percent (n=24) and 57.89% (n=22) of males and females ranked non-surgical specialties as their top choice. Student confidence in their specialty preferences was moderate, meaning their preference could likely change (mean=2.40/5.00, SD=1.23). ANOVA showed no significant differences between confidence and population size (F(2,86)=0.290, p=0.75) or marital status (F(2,85)=0.354, p=0.70) in both genders combined. Five underlying factors that explained 44.32% of the total variance were identified. Five themes were identified to enhance career counseling.

Conclusions: Medical students in their first month of training have already considered their specialty preferences, despite limited exposure. However, students are not fixed in their specialty preference. Our findings further support previous results but expand what students consider when choosing their specialty early in their training. Medical educators and administrators who recognize and understand the importance of these considerations may further enhance career counseling and medical education curricula.

Keywords: career; counseling; medical education; medical students; undergraduate.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Canada
  • Career Choice*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Curriculum
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / methods*
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Job Satisfaction
  • Male
  • Schools, Medical
  • Specialization / statistics & numerical data*
  • Students, Medical / psychology
  • Students, Medical / statistics & numerical data*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Vocational Guidance / methods
  • Young Adult