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Yoon JD, Ham SA, Reddy ST, Curlin FA. Role Models’ Influence on Specialty Choice for Residency Training: A National Longitudinal Study. J Grad Med Educ 2018;10: 149-154. DOI: 10.4300/JGME-D-17-00063.1


Formative experiences during medical training can influence a student’s future career decisions, professional identity development, and overall sense of well-being during training. While interactions with positive role models may attract trainees to their specialty, interactions with negative role models may deter them from pursuit of a particular specialty.


To examine whether personal exposure to a role model prior to or during medical school predicted students’ eventual practice in that role model’s specialty.


5-year prospective study of US allopathic medical students starting mid-way through third year of medical school following through to residency training. Participants received an initial survey and a follow up survey asking them to rank seven items with respect to their influence on specialty choice.


Of 919 eligible third-year students, 61% completed the initial survey and 84% of those completed the follow up survey. Only 25% reported physician role models prior to medical school. That increased to 87% reporting physician role models during medical school. Exposure to a generalist physician role model prior to or during medical school was the strongest predictor of training in a generalist residency program. Role model exposure was also predictive of specialty choice for those choosing training in surgery, radiology, ophthalmology, anesthesia and dermatology. Family considerations and desire for a manageable lifestyle were also influential factors in specialty choice.

Authors Conclusions:

Personal exposure to role models in medical school is an important predictor of whether a student pursues residency training in that role model’s specialty.

Reviewer Comments:

In contrast to a mentor, a role model is someone that one seeks to emulate. Physician role models demonstrate strong clinical acumen, expert thought processes, and admirable professional characteristics. The findings of this study highlight the influence physician role models play in shaping decisions regarding which specialty students choose to pursue. Exposure to positive role models may lead students to choose specialties they had not previously considered. Likewise, negative interactions may adversely impact a students’ professional development and identity.

Take Home Pearl:

Exposure to physician role models influences medical students’ choice of specialty in which they pursue training.

Katie Pendleton



Katie Pendleton

About the Educator

Katie Pendleton is an Assistant Professor of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine at the University of Minnesota. She is Core Faculty in the Internal Medicine Residency Program where she helps to oversee curriculum development. Her academic interests include medical education, teaching in the ICU, and quality improvement, implementation science and outcomes research in critical care.