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Arch Surg. 2002 Mar;137(3):259-67.

Contemporary trends in student selection of medical specialties: the potential impact on general surgery.

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Department of Surgery, The University of Alabama at Birmingham, USA.



Lifestyle is a priority among senior medical students when selecting a career specialty. The trend toward controllable lifestyle vs noncontrollable lifestyle specialties is affecting the number of students desiring a career in general surgery.


The Medical Student Graduation Questionnaire is published and distributed by the Association of American Medical Colleges to all US medical schools for senior medical students to complete before graduation. The results from the survey are published each year in the All Schools Report. We evaluated these reports to track the percentage of students pursuing a career in general surgery during the past decade. The National Resident Matching Program also publishes a report each year outlining the match results. We reviewed these results from 1978 through 2001 and used them to determine the percentage of students choosing to enter general surgery.


First choice of specialty among graduating senior students from US medical schools; positions matched by US and foreign medical students and students from osteopathic medical schools; factors that influenced the decision-making process in choice of specialty; and factors that influenced students to change their mind from one career to another.


An established trend of decreasing interest in general surgery exists and has the potential to affect the number of positions that are filled each year in the match. Linear projections confirm that, should the current trend continue (negative slope; P =.01), by 2005 only 4.8% of US graduating senior medical students will be interested in general surgery. This established trend of decreasing interest in general surgery, which began in the early 1980s, did not affect the match until 2001, when the number of positions offered exceeded the number of students interested in general surgery. At present, the specialty of general surgery is at risk for significant numbers of positions remaining unfilled. Our match projections estimate that for 2005, only 76.6% of positions will be filled by US senior students (negative slope; P =.001).


If the trend continues, the students matching in general surgery will not be as competitive as in years past, and there will be a potential shortage of these specialists in the United States.

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