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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Mapping medical careers: Questionnaire assessment of career preferences in medical school applicants and final-year students

KV Petrides1 and IC McManus2*

Author Affiliations

1 School of Psychology and Human Development Institute of Education University of London London WC1H 0AA, UK

2 Department of Psychology University College London Gower Street London WC1E 6BT, UK

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BMC Medical Education 2004, 4:18  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-4-18

Published: 1 October 2004



The medical specialities chosen by doctors for their careers play an important part in the workforce planning of health-care services. However, there is little theoretical understanding of how different medical specialities are perceived or how choices are made, despite there being much work in general on this topic in occupational psychology, which is influenced by Holland's RIASEC (Realistic-Investigative-Artistic-Social-Enterprising-Conventional) typology of careers, and Gottfredson's model of circumscription and compromise. In this study, we use three large-scale cohorts of medical students to produce maps of medical careers.


Information on between 24 and 28 specialities was collected in three UK cohorts of medical students (1981, 1986 and 1991 entry), in applicants (1981 and 1986 cohorts, N = 1135 and 2032) or entrants (1991 cohort, N = 2973) and in final-year students (N = 330, 376, and 1437). Mapping used Individual Differences Scaling (INDSCAL) on sub-groups broken down by age and sex. The method was validated in a population sample using a full range of careers, and demonstrating that the RIASEC structure could be extracted.


Medical specialities in each cohort, at application and in the final-year, were well represented by a two-dimensional space. The representations showed a close similarity to Holland's RIASEC typology, with the main orthogonal dimensions appearing similar to Prediger's derived orthogonal dimensions of 'Things-People' and 'Data-Ideas'.


There are close parallels between Holland's general typology of careers, and the structure we have found in medical careers. Medical specialities typical of Holland's six RIASEC categories are Surgery (Realistic), Hospital Medicine (Investigative), Psychiatry (Artistic), Public Health (Social), Administrative Medicine (Enterprising), and Laboratory Medicine (Conventional). The homology between medical careers and RIASEC may mean that the map can be used as the basis for understanding career choice, and for providing career counselling.