Who's choosing whom? A sociological study of the specialty choices in a Danish context

Pernille Dehn and Berit Eika

Centre for Medical Education, Aarhus University, Denmark

Submitted: 06/10/2010; Accepted: 19/04/2011; Published: 27/04/2011

Int J Med Educ. 2011; 2:36-43; doi: 10.5116/ijme.4dad.c33f

© 2011 Pernille Dehn & Berit Eika. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use of work provided the original work is properly cited. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

Objectives: The purpose of this study was to investigate if habitus, the unconscious and embodied mental structures founded early in life, can contribute to our understanding of how individuals choose a medical specialty.

Methods: A qualitative approach was employed using standardized open-ended interviews. In the present research, sampling was purposive, with an aim to illuminating the study objective. A sample of six juniors and three senior doctors were recruited from gynecology and obstetrics, vascular surgery and general practice via a snowball method. The interview guide and the subsequent analysis were based on Bourdieu's sociological theory.

Results: Three central themes emerged, labeled as "the use of distinctions and dichotomies", "the shaping of habitus" and "consequences of the shaping of habitus". These represent values and preferences developed through childhood education and experiences which may contribute to explaining specialty choices. Participants distinguished between specialties by referring to dichotomous characteristics of the specialty (such as sick/healthy patients; young/elderly patients; fine/coarse surgery).

Conclusions: Bourdieu's theory is useful for broadening our understanding of specialty choice, as his central concept, habitus, was found to direct the choice of specialty and constrain the number of possible specialties for the individual doctor. Research is needed to better understand how various factors affect the specialty choices of medical school graduates.