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Different but similar: personality traits of surgeons and internists--results of a cross-sectional observational study

07 Jul 2018


Medical practice may attract and possibly enhance distinct personality profiles. We set out to describe the personality profiles of surgical and medical specialties focusing on board-certified physicians.


Prospective, observational.


Online survey containing the Ten-Item Personality Inventory (TIPI), an internationally validated measure of the Five Factor Model of personality dimensions, distributed to board-certified physicians, residents and medical students in several European countries and Canada. Differences in personality profiles were analysed using multivariate analysis of variance and Canonical Linear Discriminant Analysis on age-standardised and sex-standardised z-scores of the personality traits. Single personality traits were analysed using robust t-tests.


The TIPI was completed by 2345 board-certified physicians, 1453 residents and 1350 medical students, who also provided demographic information.


Normal population and board-certified physicians’ personality profiles differed (p<0.001). The latter scored higher on conscientiousness, extraversion and agreeableness, but lower on neuroticism (all p<0.001). There was no difference in openness to experience. Board-certified surgical and medical doctors’ personality profiles were also different (p<0.001). Surgeons scored higher on extraversion (p=0.003) and openness to experience (p=0.002), but lower on neuroticism (p<0.001). There was no difference in agreeableness and conscientiousness. These differences in personality profiles were reproduced at other levels of training, that is, in students and training physicians engaging in surgical versus medical practice.


These results indicate the existence of a distinct and consistent average ‘physician personality’. Despite high variability within disciplines, there are moderate but solid and reproducible differences between surgical and medical specialties.

Click here to view the full article which appeared in BMJ Open