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Personality traits and career choices among physicians in Finland: employment sector, clinical patient contact, specialty and change of specialty

  • Mullola, Sari1, 2
  • Hakulinen, Christian3
  • Presseau, Justin4, 5
  • Gimeno Ruiz de Porras, David6
  • Jokela, Markus3
  • Hintsa, Taina3
  • Elovainio, Marko3, 7
  • 1 University of Helsinki, Faculty of Educational Sciences, (Siltavuorenpenger 5 A), Helsinki, 00014, Finland , Helsinki (Finland)
  • 2 Teachers College Columbia University, National Center for Children and Families, Thorndike Hall 525 West 120th Street, Box 39, New York, NY, 10027, USA , New York (United States)
  • 3 University of Helsinki, Department of Psychology and Logopedics, Medical Faculty, Helsinki, Finland , Helsinki (Finland)
  • 4 Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Clinical Epidemiology Program, 501 Smyth Road, Ottawa, K1H 8L6, Canada , Ottawa (Canada)
  • 5 University of Ottawa, School of Epidemiology and Public Health, 600 Peter Morand Crescent, Ottawa, K1G 5Z3, Canada , Ottawa (Canada)
  • 6 The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, School of Public Health, San Antonio, TX, 78229, USA , San Antonio (United States)
  • 7 Institute for Health and Welfare, Helsinki, 00370, Finland , Helsinki (Finland)
Published Article
BMC Medical Education
Springer (Biomed Central Ltd.)
Publication Date
Mar 27, 2018
DOI: 10.1186/s12909-018-1155-9
Springer Nature


BackgroundPersonality influences an individual’s adaptation to a specific job or organization. Little is known about personality trait differences between medical career and specialty choices after graduating from medical school when actually practicing different medical specialties. Moreover, whether personality traits contribute to important career choices such as choosing to work in the private or public sector or with clinical patient contact, as well as change of specialty, have remained largely unexplored. In a nationally representative sample of Finnish physicians (N = 2837) we examined how personality traits are associated with medical career choices after graduating from medical school, in terms of employment sector, patient contact, medical specialty and change of specialty.MethodsPersonality was assessed using the shortened version of the Big Five Inventory (S-BFI). An analysis of covariance with posthoc tests for pairwise comparisons was conducted, adjusted for gender and age with confounders (employment sector, clinical patient contact and medical specialty).ResultsHigher openness was associated with working in the private sector, specializing in psychiatry, changing specialty and not practicing with patients. Lower openness was associated with a high amount of patient contact and specializing in general practice as well as ophthalmology and otorhinolaryngology. Higher conscientiousness was associated with a high amount of patient contact and specializing in surgery and other internal medicine specialties. Lower conscientiousness was associated with specializing in psychiatry and hospital service specialties. Higher agreeableness was associated with working in the private sector and specializing in general practice and occupational health. Lower agreeableness and neuroticism were associated with specializing in surgery. Higher extraversion was associated with specializing in pediatrics and change of specialty. Lower extraversion was associated with not practicing with patients.ConclusionsThe results showed distinctive personality traits to be associated with physicians’ career and specialty choices after medical school independent of known confounding factors. Openness was the most consistent personality trait associated with physicians’ career choices in terms of employment sector, amount of clinical patient contact, specialty choice and change of specialty. Personality-conscious medical career counseling and career guidance during and after medical education might enhance the person-job fit among physicians.

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