Perceptions of nephrology among medical students and internal medicine residents: a national survey among institutions with nephrology exposure

BMC Nephrol. 2019 Apr 29;20(1):146. doi: 10.1186/s12882-019-1289-y.


Background: Fewer trainees are choosing to pursue nephrology. Only 60.1% of positions filled in the 2018 fellowship Match, which is concerning given the rising prevalence of end-stage kidney disease. Identifying factors influential in career choices is critical to inform focused approaches to recruit qualified applicants.

Methods: To understand perceptions of nephrology and assess factors influential in specialty choice among early career trainees, an anonymous survey was distributed to upper-level medical students and internal medicine residents at programs identified through the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) and American Medical Association's Fellowship and Residency Electronic Interactive Database (FREIDA).

Results: Of 4199 recipients, 644 (15.3%) participants responded, including 315 upper-level medical students, 308 residents, and three chief residents from 30 institutions. An interest in the subject was the most critical factor in selecting a specialty (92%). Other key factors included a suitable work-life balance (73%), access to mentors (70%), and subject exposure (66%). Lack of interest was the most frequently-cited reason to forgo a nephrology fellowship (79%), followed by concerns regarding remuneration (43%), work-life balance (39%), and subject exposure (32%). In free-text responses, several participants described frustration with managing patients on hemodialysis and desired combined training with specialties such as critical care. Respondents who had considered nephrology at any point cited an interest in physiology or interface with a mentor as key driving factors.

Conclusions: A lack of interest in and exposure to the subject, perceptions of poor earning potential and patient nonadherence, and concerns regarding work-life balance were influential in participants' decisions to forgo nephrology training. Incorporating novel educational tools and broadening the scope of the nephrology elective, highlighting ongoing areas of clinical and research innovation, expanding opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration and procedural skills, and cultivating strategies to reduce burnout may be useful areas on which to focus future recruitment efforts.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude
  • Career Choice*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency*
  • Male
  • Needs Assessment
  • Nephrology / education*
  • Quality Improvement
  • Social Perception
  • Students, Medical / psychology*
  • United States