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Clerkship Experiences During Medical School: Influence on Specialty Decision



Clinical rotations during medical school are the time when most students select their specialty. Limited or lack of exposure could deter students from certain sub-specialties, and thus, insight into the selection process is essential. This study assesses the role of limited clinical rotations and perception of students on specialty selection.


All graduating medical students were surveyed at our US-based institution for 2 years. The survey included both open- and close-ended questions related to influence of clerkship experience and other factors on specialty choice and suggestions for improvement. The data were analyzed descriptively and thematically.


Majority of students (87%) had minimal exposure to their chosen residency specialty prior to the third-year clerkships. Role of a clerkship experience in selecting a specialty was significant for 70% students, especially interaction with attendings (92%) and residents (86.3%). The most influential reasons for specialty choice to change were clerkship experience (41%) and mentors (21%). Approximately 34% students chose a specialty that was not a part of third-year core clerkships, and the most significant factors influencing their choice were shadowing experience (21%) and lifestyle (18%). Further, thematic analysis suggested that earlier and more clinical exposure to various specialties and formal mentoring could make specialty selection process easier.


Along with specialty content, the relationship of learners and teachers in the clinical setting plays a significant role in selecting and/or rejecting certain specialty by medical students. The study provides broader baseline data for medical schools and educators in preparation of curriculum and future physician workforce composition.

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We would like to thank Dean Parmelee, MD at the Wright State University, Boonshoft School of Medicine, for providing insights into the subject area and critically reviewing our manuscript.

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Correspondence to Priti P. Parikh.

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This study was reviewed and approved by the Institutional Review Board at Wright State University.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Kaminski, A., Falls, G. & Parikh, P. Clerkship Experiences During Medical School: Influence on Specialty Decision. Med.Sci.Educ. 31, 1109–1114 (2021).

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  • Specialty choice by medical student
  • Influence of clerkship
  • Clerkship and specialty choice
  • Medical education