Neel Sharma: Personality traits—a neglected area of research in medical education

My first admission whilst writing this correspondence is that I am no expert in the field of psychology. I undertook training in psychiatry during my junior years but this only gave me a brief snapshot into people’s mindset.

In medical education I note an ever increasing rise in innovation. From the introduction of the OSCE, we now see newer assessments coming to the forefront in the UK. We witness changes in teaching delivery through technology and learning enhancement and through interprofessional and teamwork related means.

Focusing on the latter, a personal observation of mine and hence slightly non impactful from an academic sense, is the fact that working together with fellow colleagues is an ever increasing battle. When I entered medical school I viewed the world through rose tinted glasses as most students do. However upon exiting, the tint soon became less than rosy. According to one of my mentors, half the battle when it comes to patient care isn’t making a diagnosis. In fact as long as each system is supported, a patient’s chance of recovery is more than likely. Doctors are given even more support than ever when it comes to diagnostic tools—a headache can be scanned, and chest pain traced, for example. But as doctors we tend to make our lives difficult.

When we observe the hierarchy that exists, a junior doctor is regarded as an administrator and berated if discharge summaries are delayed, a more senior trainee doctor has the concerns of patient management, and in case of mismanagement their seniors will certainly highlight any shortcomings. As for the specialist, well they assume they have control, but with management on the increase they are simply obeying commands of a different nature. In essence the picture I am trying to paint of such conflict is related to one’s ego. Doctors are not devoid of ego and it can be assumed that the construct of such determines their choice of specialty. Maybe the ego and personality traits at large may be relevant when it comes to finding solutions to problems in medical education. Work by Doherty et al noted that the personality trait known as conscientiousness was a significant predictor of performance in medical school. Additional traits concerning sociability (i.e. extraversion, openness, self-esteem, and neuroticism) were also identified as relevant.

I wonder therefore whether personality traits influence intervention in medical education and whether such intervention proves successful. Despite the promise of interprofessional learning and learning in teams, do certain personalities make it more likely to be a success or a failure, and do certain personalities suit the use of technology? We often read about the potential merits or downfalls of intervention without much in the way of personality assessment of study members. I wonder whether this avenue holds potential research wise and look forward to reading efforts of those willing to consider its worth.

Neel Sharma graduated from the University of Manchester and did his internal medicine training at The Royal London Hospital and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. Currently he is a gastroenterology trainee based in Singapore. 

Competing interests: None declared.