Personality factors and medical training : a review of the literature
Context: It has been acknowledged that certain personality characteristics influence both medical students’ and doctors’ performance. With regard to medical students, studies have been concerned with the role of personality and performance indicators such as academic results and clinical competence. In addition the link between personality and vulnerability to stress, which has implications for performance, has been investigated at both the undergraduate and postgraduate level. Most studies that are cited in the literature have been published before the year 2000. The authors therefore decided to undertake a literature search to determine whether there have been any prospective systematic studies published since 2000. Methods: A review of the literature was performed from 2000 – 2009, using the databases – Medline, PsychINFO, CINAHL. The search terms used were ‘personality’, ‘performance’ ‘stress’ and ‘medical student’. Specific inclusion criteria were cohort studies carried out over a minimum period of two years that measured medical student scores on valid and reliable personality tests and also used objective measures of performance and stress. Results: The authors identified seven suitable studies. Four of these looked at personality factors and academic success, one looked at personality factors and clinical competence and two looked at personality factors and stress. From the literature the main personality characteristic that was repeatedly identified was conscientiousness. Conclusion: The personality trait known as conscientiousness has been found to be a significant predictor of performance in medical school. The relationship between personality and performance becomes increasingly significant with advancement through medical training. Additional traits concerning sociability i.e. extraversion, openness, self-esteem and neuroticism have been identified to be also relevant particularly in the applied medical environment. A prospective national study with the collaboration of all medical schools would offer the possibility of further investigating these important but initial findings.