Background: There has been much focus on factors influencing medical students' career choice, prompted by such concerns as a sufficient future surgical workforce, declining applicant pool, changing gender composition, and a cultural shift in values and priorities. Once in a surgical residency, there are little data on factors influencing general surgery (GS) residents' final specialty choice. Study Design: A survey instrument was developed and content validated in conjunction with the Association of American Medical Colleges Center for Workforce Studies. The final instrument was distributed electronically between March 24 and May 2, 2008, through 251 GS program directors to all ACGME-accredited GS residents (n = 7,508). Results: Response rate was 29% (2,153 residents; 89% programs). Half of GS residents remained undecided about specialty choice through the 2nd year, declining to 2% by year 5. Of the two-thirds who decided on a specialty, 16.5% chose to remain in GS, 14.6% chose plastics, 9.3% cardiothoracic, and 8.5% vascular. The specialty choice factors most likely to be very important were type of procedures and techniques, exposure to positive role model, and ability to balance work and personal life. Relative importance of factors in specialty choice varied by gender and chosen specialty. Mentors play a key role in specialty choice (66% decided had mentors versus 47% undecided). Work schedule was the most frequently selected shortcoming in every specialty except plastics. Cardiothoracic surgery followed by GS had the highest shortcomings. Conclusions: The majority of GS residents plan to subspecialize. Three factors dominate specialty choice. Faculty need to understand their impact potential to modify or change perceptions of their specialty.
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