I’ve often wondered whether medical students are attracted to a particular specialty because of their personality type; or whether their personality adjusts and evolves based on their specialty choice.

The answer is it’s probably a bit of both.

One academic medical school website delved a little deeper into the question. They noted that surgeons, for example, are stereotyped as dominant, aggressive, uninhibited. Formal Myers-Briggs personality testing – which characterizes personalities into 1 of 16 profiles (more on that in a bit) noted surgeons were more extroverted, practical, social, competitive, and structured than those in “controllable lifestyle specialties.”[1] Surgeons were less creative.

Controllable lifestyle specialties were more introverted and less conforming than surgeons.

Primary care had the most diversity in personality type.

One medical school in Saudi Arabia (King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences) publishes “Guide for Specialty Selection Based on Personality Type.

There are many crucial factors to take into consideration when choosing a medical specialty. One of the most unifying variables, ranking at the top of the list, is a good personality match between the student and the specialty. Unfortunately, the majority of medical students do not realize the importance of matching their personality types and the medical specialties they are interested in. In addition, the bulk of medical students’ time is spent on lectures, studying and clinical work, as a result most students do not have time to spend on thinking about their own personality type. But at some point during medical school, the student should take some time to assess his values, character, and temperament in an honest way.

There are many tools to determine the personality type but we will discuss here the most popular and widely used psychological test in the world; the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

In Myers-Briggs testing, 4 dimensions are evaluated. Each subject has one of two elements.

Dimensions Elements
1 Favorite World Extroversion (E) or Introversion (I)
2 Information Sensing (S) or iNtuition (N)
3 Decision Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)
4 Structure Judgment (J) or Perception (P)

For Favorite world, do you prefer to focus on the outer world or your own world?

For Information, do you concentrate on what can be seen, heard, felt, smelled, or tasted? Or do you naturally read between the lines and look for the meaning in all things?

For Decision, how do you make a decision, and based on what? Do you prefer to make decisions using an impersonal approach; making decisions that make logical sense? Or do you prefer to make decisions based on personal values?

Finally, for Structure, what type of lifestyle do you prefer? Getting things decided or stay open for new options?

The formal Myers-Briggs instrument includes 93 forced choice questions. Forced choice means the subject has to choose one of two possible answers to each question. Example questions include

  1. I am most comfortable being (a) spontaneous; or (b) a planner
  2. Change for me is (a) difficult; or (b) easy.
  3. I prefer to work (a) alone; or (b) in a team.

While it’s probably a stretch to pigeonhole personality into one of 16 types, here they are:

ISTJ ISFJ INFJ INTJ
ISTP ISFP INFP INTP
ESTP ESFP ENFP ENTP
ESTJ ESFJ ENFJ ENTJ

Here is the abridged list of specialties the Saudi Arabian medical school recommended based on personality type:

 

What do you think? If you’ve been tested with Myers-Briggs survey, does the list conform to the specialty you chose?

[1] Controllable lifestyle specialties were defined as anesthesiology, dermatology, emergency medicine, ophthalmology, pathology, psychiatry, and radiology.