Personality as a Prognostic Factor for Specialty Choice: A Prospective Study of 4 Medical School Classes

Document Type


Publication Date




To augment the availability of medical care for a population that is older and more ethnically diverse, the number of US medical schools is increasing and existing medical schools are enlarging their class sizes. Predictors of specialty choice, especially primary care careers, are helpful to medical school officials and faculty involved in medical school recruitment and counseling and to students planning their career paths.


The objective was to examine the association between personality characteristics and specialty choice.


The Neuroticism-Extraversion-Openness Personality Inventory Revised (NEO PI-R) was administered to 4 Tulane University School of Medicine (New Orleans, Louisiana) classes (2003–2006). The NEO PI-R is a measure of 5 personality characteristics (neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness), with each domain having 6 underlying facets. The specialty choice of graduates was obtained from the National Residency Matching Program.


Starting in 1999, 595 students matriculated and by June 2006, 542 (91%) had matched to residency programs in 22 specialties. There were differences among specialties for neuroticism (P = .006), openness (P < .001), and agreeableness (P = .003), but not for extraversion (P = .173) or conscientiousness (P = .103). Various pairwise differences between specialty categories were found.


Eleven specialty categories were compared using the NEO PI-R. Numerous specialty variations were identified for neuroticism, openness, and agreeableness. The findings may be useful to medical school officials and faculty who recruit and counsel students and to students themselves as they reflect on their personality characteristics on their path to making career choices.