Healthwatch: Specialty vs. General Medicine

By: Mavis Prall
By: Mavis Prall

More medical students are choosing to go into specialties such as dermatology and anesthesiology. They're often making the choice because those specialties offer the time for a more structured family life. The other side is that fewer medical students are choosing family practice and surgery.

Some future doctors have more than medicine on their minds. What sort of medicine do they want to practice, a specialty that calls them away from family at all hours, or one with a set schedule?

"It's definitely a consideration for me, that I do want to have children at some point," said Meghan Tadel, an intern.

"I always think about trying to be a father that's around, because my dad, my parents, were always around for me," said Christian Herrera, a 4th year medical student.

A new study published in the journal of the American Medical Association shows a big increase in the number of medical students choosing specialties that have controllable lifestyles, meaning set hours, versus uncontrollable lifestyles, lots of time spent on call.

"We're being told essentially that it's not the number of hours or the intensity of the work," said dr. Gregory Rutecki of Evanston Northwestern Healthcare. "It's the ability at the end of the day to close out the workday and go home and be away from professional responsibilities."

Rutecki is an author of the study looking at why med students choose the specialties they do. He and his colleagues reviewed seven years of data showing which specialties were most popular with students, and why.

Between 1996 and 2002, the number of students choosing anesthesiology, which as a controllable lifestyle, went from 172 to 944, but the number choosing family practice, a primary care specialty with an uncontrollable lifestyle, went down by about a thousand students.

Lifestyle accounted for 55 percent of students' decisions, while income accounted for just nine percent.

"We're going to have person-power shortages in the next ten years in critical areas," Rutecki said. "If primary care has been voted by this generation as uncontrollable, where are the primary care doctors going to come from?"

Many future doctors say they want to be good at their jobs, but they want to be good spouses and parents as well.

View more Healthwatch articles here.


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