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Open Access Research article

Correlations of knowledge and preference of medical students for a specialty career: a case-study of youth health care

Marc BM Soethout1*, Olle TJ ten Cate2 and Gerrit van der Wal1

Author Affiliations

1 VU University Medical Center, Department of Public and Occupational Health, EMGO Institute, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

2 University Medical Center Utrecht, School of Medical Sciences, Utrecht, The Netherlands

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BMC Public Health 2008, 8:14  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-8-14

Published: 14 January 2008



Medical students develop interest in a specialty career during medical school based on knowledge and clinical experience of different specialties. How valid this knowledge is and how this knowledge relates to the development of preference for a specialty is not known. We studied their "subjective" knowledge of a specialty (students' reported knowledge) with "objective" knowledge of it (students actual knowledge as compared to reports of specialists) and their preference for this specialty at different stages of education, and used youth health care as a case study.


Students from all years in two medical schools (N = 2928) were asked to complete a written questionnaire including (a) a statement of their knowledge of youth health care (YHC) ("subjective knowledge"), (b) their preference for a YHC career and (c) a list of 47 characteristics of medical practice with the request to rate their applicability to YHC. A second questionnaire containing the same 47 characteristics were presented to 20 practicing youth health physicians with the request to rate the applicability to their own profession. This profile was compared to the profiles generated by individual student's answers, resulting in what we called "objective knowledge."


Correlation studies showed that "subjective knowledge" was not related to "objective knowledge" of the YHC profession (r = 0.05), but significantly to career preference for this field (r = 0.29, P < 0.01). Preference for a YHC career hardly correlated with objective knowledge about this profession (r = 0.11, P < 0.05). Students with YHC clerkships showed no better "objective knowledge" about the profession than students without such experience.


Career preference aren't always related to prior experiences, or to actual knowledge of the area. This study shows how careful we should be to trust students' opinions and preferences about specialties; they probably need much guidance in career choice.