Unpopular medical specialties: exploring the concept that “the customer knows best”

Charles Weissman*, Alexander Avidan, Howard Tandeter, Rachel Yaffa Zisk Rony

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    1 Scopus citations


    Background: Healthcare systems often face shortages of certain medical specialists due to lack of interest among medical students. We questioned a common “one solution fits all” approach to this problem which involves monetary incentives to lure students to these specialties. Instead, we used the marketing principle the “consumer knows best” to explore ways of elucidating the reasons and proposing solutions for such shortages. Methods: A convenience sample of Israeli 6th-year medical students and interns completed questionnaires to determine why they thought three specialties (geriatrics, anesthesiology, emergency medicine) were unpopular and their ideas on increasing their appeal. Results: 119 6th-year students and 84 interns completed questionnaires. Geriatrics was reported having a problematic patient population; not being interesting and challenging; and not considered prestigious by colleagues and the populace. This contrasts with emergency medicine which, although considered prestigious, has difficult working conditions both during and after residency accompanied by much pressure at work. Although, improvements in lifestyle and remuneration were thought by students and interns as possibly making these specialties more attractive, reducing the pressure at work and decreasing on-call obligations were designated by the students/interns as ways to increase emergency medicine’s and anesthesiology’s appeal. Half the students replied that anesthesiology would be more appealing if work was in shifts (< 16 h), while 60% replied so for emergency medicine and only 18% for geriatrics. 90% of students reported that control over lifestyle would make emergency medicine more attractive while 55% and 48% replied positively for anesthesiology and geriatrics, respectively. Conclusions: Using the concept “consumer knows best” provided additional insight into the specialty selection process. Students/interns have specialty-specific opinions as to why some specialties are unpopular. Their ideas about attracting more students to these specialties were also specialty-dependent, i.e. “one solution does not fit all”. These observations render problematic a single solution aimed at ameliorating the workforce shortages of multiple specialties. Instead, these results advocate a differential approach wherein the lack of appeal of each unpopular specialty is analyzed individually and the students’/interns’ (the “consumers”) ideas sought resulting in solutions tailored to address each specialty’s lack of attractiveness. Trial Registration: None.

    Original languageAmerican English
    Article number268
    JournalBMC Medical Education
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - 20 Apr 2023

    Bibliographical note

    Publisher Copyright:
    © 2023, The Author(s).


    • Choosing a Medical Specialty
    • Customer knows best
    • Interns
    • Medical specialties
    • Medical students
    • Physician workforce


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