Perceptions of Specialties and Primary Care Careers: Findings from West Virginia Medical Student and Resident Focus Groups

The purpose of this study was to improve the understanding of how perceptions of practicing specific medical specialties contribute to career decisions. Participants included medical students and residents from training programs in West Virginia. Focus groups were conducted between September 2013 and February 2015. Thematic content analysis of focus group interviews was used to identify phrases indicating perceptions of person- versus technique-oriented personality medical specialties.

“Self-focused” and “other-focused” themes emerged within person-oriented comments. Factors affecting “self”, including work/life balance and salary and practice environment, made certain specialties more appealing. Technique-oriented comments included working in a hospital setting, performing technical procedures, and solving immediate problems as opposed to long-term management. Technique-oriented comments from students emphasized learning about disease, and resident comments emphasized treatment as their primary focus.

The majority of participants’ comments suggested that a strong patient-doctor relationship and continuity of care are rewarding components of primary care and more compatible with person-oriented personalities. Participants selecting person-oriented specialties viewed rural practice locations more favorably, especially the opportunity to become an integral part of a community. Participants selecting technique-oriented specialties preferred limited interactions with patients and stated that problem-solving and learning about disease states were the most appealing aspects of practicing medicine.