Medical specialties ranked by career ‘desirability’

By Geir O'Rourke

26 Oct 2023

More than half of medical students say they are interested in training as emergency physicians, while gastroenterology and cardiology are other popular choices, an Australian study has revealed.

But, based on survey results, less than a tenth want to become pathologists and just 2% are interested in occupational and environmental medicine.

The researchers say the wide disparity in desirability of each specialty is mostly just a factor of exposure in medical school, with students typically spending many hours in emergency departments throughout their degrees.

On the other hand, those on the lower end of the desirability scale – which also include medical administration – may have “lower intrinsic interest compared with more typical clinical fields”, they say.

Besides emergency, top rated specialties included anaesthesia, intensive care medicine and general paediatrics, found the poll, answered by 123 final year medical students entering the workforce as interns at Melbourne’s Monash Health

Respondents were asked to score the desirability of 47 medical specialties out of five, with five indicating they were very interested in the specialty as a career path.

Gastroenterology was the most popular choice of the adult internal medicine specialties, ranking fifth overall, followed by cardiology (6th) and endocrinology (8th).

Conversely, surgical specialties tended to have below average desirability rankings, likely reflecting the fact that “most respondents were non-surgically inclined”, the researchers said.

“While Australian surgical training is still considered among the most competitive training programmes, this may be due to limited training positions, rather than a large percentage of pre-vocational trainees interested in pursuing a career in surgery,” they wrote in BMJ Leader (link here).

“Monitoring surgical career interest in the pre-vocational space will be imperative in future years to monitor for trends in doctors pursuing a surgical career.”

Another interesting finding involved general practice and psychiatry, which ranked 10th and 12th overall but were “polarising” and were rated very undesirable by some respondents and very desirable by others.

“As such, general practice would be considered an unlikely alternative career path to medical students and pre-vocational doctors who have a primary interest in any other specialty,” the researchers said.

“Aiming to attract medical students into university with an intent to pursue general practice, and cultivating an interest throughout medical school, may be critical to maintaining a consistent cohort of Australian trained doctors entering general practice training.”

And perhaps predictably, those who were interested in one internal medicine specialty tended to also be interested in others, with the same being true of surgical and critical care specialties as well.

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