- Swiss residents' speciality choices – impact of gender, personality traits, career motivation and life goals

The medical specialties chosen by doctors for their careers play an important role in the development of health-care services. There are some recent studies of how different medical specialities are perceived or how choices are made [1-3]. Several determinants have been identified: the feminisation of medicine, lifestyle, specialist status and the prospect of future income, as well as the structural conditions of the various residency programmes. Most studies addressed medical students, not residents. As far as we know there appear to be only a few studies on personality traits, career motivation and personal life goals as influencing factors on speciality choice [4].


Since the 1990s, more than half of the medical school graduates in Western countries have been women [5-8]. Although female physicians tend to specialise almost to the same degree, they enter other specialties than their male colleagues [9-12]. Especially in surgical specialities, female physicians are under-represented [13]. Gender differences in speciality choice can partly be explained as a function of socialisation [14-16], but also by structural operating barriers or closure mechanisms within specific fields [17-19].


Several studies have reported that a so-called controllable lifestyle has become a determinant in physicians' speciality selection criteria [3,20-22]. The following characteristics of a controllable lifestyle have been defined: personal time free of practice requirements for leisure, family, and non-vocational pursuits and control of total weekly hours spent on professional responsibilities. For female physicians the prospect of combining their professional career with family responsibilities is a key issue in the process of speciality choice or changing the speciality to which they initially aspired to [16].

Status and income

Prestige within the medical profession, social status and income also play their role in the decision in favour of a medical speciality [23,24]. In some studies, students reported their student debt as one of the factors influencing their career choices [25,26]. Students with large debts tended to choose surgical specialities more often and were less likely to choose primary care.

Residency programmes

The application and selection procedures for residency programmes, the length, quality and structure of the programme, work schedules, mentorship, annual vacations are also factors which are considered when choosing a speciality [18,19,24,27,28].

Most studies investigated only one or two of the factors identified as influencing speciality choice. One has to consider, however, that Swiss studies addressing issues of speciality choice are lacking to date.

The aims of this study were to investigate (1) the development of the residents' speciality choices since graduating from medical school, and the differences compared to the speciality distribution of working doctors, and (2) what factors influence the young doctors' speciality choices. As shown in Figure 1, we hypothesised that gender and personality traits have an impact on speciality choice, and that career motivation as well as life goals have an influence, too. The present paper aimed to examine these hypotheses.

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