Advances in Health Sciences Education

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 79–92 | Cite as

Social dominance theory and medical specialty choice

  • Brice Lepièce
  • Christine Reynaert
  • Philippe van Meerbeeck
  • Valérie Dory


Understanding how medical students select their specialty is a fundamental issue for public health and educational policy makers. One of the factors that students take into account is a specialty’s prestige which hinges partly on its focus on technique rather than whole person. We examine the potential of a psychological framework, social dominance theory, to explain why some students, and not others, are drawn to more prestigious, technique-oriented specialties, based on their desire for hierarchy. We conducted a cross-sectional study among medical students at Institution X (N = 359). We examined the link between medical students’ characteristics i.e. social dominance orientation (SDO), gender, age, and their career intention. We also examined level of medical students’ SDO at different stages of the curriculum. SDO scores were significantly associated with technique-oriented career intentions (OR 1.56; 95 % CI [1.18, 2.06]; p = 0.001). The effect was independent of gender. Medical students’ SDO scores were significantly higher in later stages of the medical curriculum (F = 6.79; p = 0. 001). SDO is a significant predictor of medical students’ career intention. SDO scores are higher in students during the clinical phase of the curriculum. Medical socialization, involving the internalization of implicit and explicit norms, particularly in hospital settings, is likely to underpin our findings. This theory illuminates consistent findings in the literature on specialty prestige and the influence of medical school on career choice.


Career choice Clinical clerkship Education, medical, undergraduate Hierarchy Medical students Prestige Social dominance 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brice Lepièce
    • 1
  • Christine Reynaert
    • 1
  • Philippe van Meerbeeck
    • 1
  • Valérie Dory
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute of Health and Society (IRSS)Université catholique de LouvainBrusselsBelgium
  2. 2.Faculty of Medicine, Centre for Medical EducationMcGill UniversityMontréalCanada

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