Can personality tests predict your medical specialty?

Monday, December 8th, 2008

The academic advisors in the deans offices of our country’s medical schools and the public health directors looking to admit medical students who will work in under served rural areas have long pondered how to predict a medical student’s specialty choice.

Can the senior faculty member read students in an admissions interview?  Can your academic advisor help figure out which specialty will be most fulfilling for you?  Can a personality test predict which specialty or research field you’re best suited for?

After taking a Myers-Briggs test recently, I came across a field of literature dating back to the 1950s about physician specialty choices.  And nobody has looked at the difficult decisions of how to balance the career of a physician scientist using these crude tools.  But some interesting insights came out of this.  First, my personality type INTJ is associated with being a biomedical scientist/researcher (yeah!).  If you know your type, check here for career matches, which include medical specialties.

One problem with the conclusions from the Myers Briggs data doesn’t seem to hold up with time.  In the academic literature, this results in statements like “predictive validity of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator should be reexamined.”  Some of this data goes back from the 1980s, and the nature of the professions have changed considerable.  Moreover, it doesn’t tell us if these people made the correct choices–just that they made a choice based on their personality type.  It would be interesting to look at satisfaction rates based on the personalities types, perhaps within a single specialty.  But that leads to the last problem: statistics.  The ratios are pretty weak because they researchers tackled an enormous question with just a few thousand people.  And personality type is far from deterministic.

Where else might this head?  Another quote from a Family Medicine journal article from 1985 indicates this is not a new idea: “This information may be useful in health manpower planning and in examining admissions policies of medical schools and residencies.”  But since this hasn’t happened in the last 20 or so years, I think this will have to remain a pipe dream for those sensing, feeling types.

P.S. I’ve included a brief chart on specialty choice.  For example, Child Psychiatrists are more likely to be NF (two of the 4 letters from a Myers-Briggs) than the other options.  Also, I would be interested in comments about how this relates to the MD/PhD student.

ST –
sensing plus thinking (practical and matter-of-fact)
SF
– sensing plus feeling (sympathetic and friendly)
NF –
intuition plus feeling (enthusiastic and insightful)
NT
– intuition and thinking (logical and ingenious)
Speciality N Ratio Speciality N Ratio Speciality N Ratio Speciality N Ratio
Aerospace Medicine 20 1.37 Allergy 17 1.46 Child Psychiatry 38 1.77 Neurology 39 1.62
Preventive Medicine 12 1.37 Anesthesiology 60 1.36 Neurological Surgery 17 1.50 Pathology 92 1.54
Obstetrics &
Gynecology
156 1.35 Ophthalmology 48 1.32 Psychiatry 146 1.49 Psychiatry 178 146
Orthopedic Surgery 68 1.24 Occupational Medicine 21 1.29 Public Health 33 1.44 Pulmonary Diseases 26 1.45
General Practice 260 1.23 Family Practice 33 1.22 Preventive Medicine 11 1.33 Child Psychiatry 36 1.35
Dermatology 25 1.23 General Practice 217 1.18 Gastroenterology 20 1.32 Thoracic Surgery 35 1.21
Urology 35 1.20 Urology 30 1.18 Dermatology 25 1.31 Cardiolovascular
Disease
77 1.20
General Surgery 165 1.18 Pediatrics 94 1.16 Plastic Surgery 16 126 Otolaryngology 27 1.18
Anesthesiology 58 1.15 Gastroenerology 16 1.14 Cardiovascular Disease 56 1.08 Internal Medicine 313 1.16
Radiology 61 1.05 Thoracic Surgery 24 1.10 Internal Medicine 234 1.08 Neurological Surgery 16 1.14
Otolaryngology 20 1.02 Plastic Surgery 13 1.09 Pediatrics 92 1.06 Radiology 76 1.12
Family Practice 31 1.00 Obstetrics &
Gynecology
111 1.09 Family Practice 30 1.03 Allergy 17 1.09
Occupational Medicine 18 .97 Orthopedic Surgery 52 1.08 Thoracic Surgery 24 1.03 Plastic Surgery 17 1.07
Cardiovascular Disease 53 .96 Otolaryngology 18 1.05 Aerospace Medicine 14 1.02 Aerospace Medicine 17 1.00
Public Health 23 .94 General Surgery 123 1.00 Neurology 19 .98 Anesthesiology 58 .98
Pediatrics 81 .88 Pulmonary Disease 13 .97 Occupational Medicine 17 .97 Preventive Medicine 10 .97
Internal Medicine 195 .85 Public Health 19 .89 Radiology 52 .95 Orthopedic Surgery 62 .97
Ophthalmology 35 .84 Internal Medicine 176 87 Obstetrics &
Gynecology
103 .94 Gastroenterology 18 .96
Pathology 41 .80 Radiology 43 .84 Ophthalmology 37 .94 Ophthalmology 46 .95
Allergy 10 .75 Neurology 14 .78 Pathology 45 .93 Pediatrics 101 .94
Neruological Surgery 9 .75 Cardiovascular Diseases 33 .69 General Surgery 122 .93 General Surgery 148 .90
Pulmonary Diseases 10 .65 Dermatology 11 .62 General Practice 171 .86 Urology 30 .88
Thoracic Surgery 16 .64 Pathology 26 .58 Pulmonary Diseases 12 .83 Dermatology 20 .84
Gastroenterology 10 .62 Neurological Surgery 6 .57 Urology 21 .77 Occupational Medicine 18 .83
Plastic Surgery 8 .59 Aerospace Medicine 7 .55 Allergy 9 .72 Family Practice 29 .80
Psychiatry 52 .50 Psychiatry 39 .43 Orthopedic Surgery 37 .72 General Practice 191 .78
Neruology 10 .49 Child Psychiatry 7 .35 Otolaryngology 13 .71 Public Health 22 .77
Child Psychiatry 10 .44 Preventive Medicine 2 .26 Anesthesiology 25 .53 Obstetrics &
Gynecology
92 .68
TOTAL 1243 1089 1169 1452

From Gersher.org