One in seven medical residents reported regret about their career choice, which was strongly linked to symptoms of burnout. And 7 percent reported regret about their specialty choice, according to the results of a survey of more than 3,500 second-year residents.

According to the JAMA study, residents in these five medical specialties experienced the highest percentage of career-choice regret:

  • Pathology—32.7 percent.
  • Anesthesiology—20.6 percent.
  • General surgery—19.1 percent.
  • Neurology—17.4 percent.
  • Psychiatry—16.9 percent.

In the study, “Association of Clinical Specialty With Symptoms of Burnout and Career Choice Regret Among U.S. Resident Physicians,” residents were asked whether they would choose to become a physician again, and whether they would choose the same specialty. The study authors noted limitations with the study, including the small sample size and that the scope of the survey did not include measurement of other important dimensions related to burnout and career or specialty choice regret. They also said the “cause and effect as well as the direction of the relationships observed cannot be determined from the study design because there were no baseline measurements of the outcome variables.”

For details about the findings on specialty-choice regret—which did vary from those on career-choice regret—see table 4 of the study.

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By contrast, with less than 10 percent of residents in these specialties expressed regret about their career choices:

  • Plastic surgery—7.4 percent.
  • Family medicine—8.9 percent.
  • Otolaryngology—9 percent.

The study found that most residents were satisfied with their career and specialty choice—similar to practicing physicians. Pathology and anesthesiology, however, had a low prevalence of burnout. The low prevalence of burnout among pathology and anesthesiology residents signals that career-choice regret might be due to other factors.

Residents who were burned out were three times more likely to experience career-choice regret. Increased burnout among certain specialties may be attributed to unique characteristics of their work environment. Supervising physicians in these specialties might also make an impact—modeling burnout to residents and placing them at greater risk.

The AMA’s Reimagining Residency initiative is a $15 million grant program to support graduate medical education innovation, with the aim of transforming residency training to best address the workforce needs of our current and future health care system. The initiative will support new approaches that provide a meaningful and safe transition from medical school to residency, establish new curricular content and experiences to enhance readiness for practice, and promote well-being in training.

The AMA provides a guide for medical students on choosing a medical specialty that presents a clear, approachable overview of specialties and subspecialties and can assist you in choosing a career path.

The AMA Ed Hub™, your center for personalized learning from sources you trust, offers AMA STEPS Forward™ modules on professional well-being.

These include “Physician Wellness: Preventing Resident and Fellow Burnout: Create a holistic, supportive culture of wellness,” which will help you understand the key aspects of personal well-being and the steps needed to develop a wellness program.

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