Perceptions of Factors Contributing to Professional Identity Development and Specialty Choice: A Survey of Third- and Fourth-Year Medical Students

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2011


This study begins to explore whether there is a link between medical students’ professional identity development and their specialty choice. Through an online survey, third- and fourth-year students at a US medical school were asked to identify the curricular, extracurricular, and personal experiences they felt influenced their professional identity development, and which of nine known considerations influenced their specialty choice. In 141 responses (68% return rate), students most frequently identified experiences involving humans – as cadavers, patients, colleagues, mentors, and role models – as contributing to their professional identity development. Of the nine contributors to specialty decisions, students highlighted intellectual interest, patient contact, procedural skills, lifestyle, and career opportunities. Narrative responses to both questions consistently emphasized the value of emotionally positive clerkship experiences, patient encounters, role models, and mentors. The abundance and consistency of these responses suggest that positive interpersonal and clinical experiences may influence both professional identity development and specialty choice.