Many factors come into play when medical students are considering which specialty to pursue, but there are two that seem to rise to the top: how well a specialty fits with your personality, and what you can expect to earn. New research on the topic of personality type and income sheds some light on how physician salary is linked with personality type.
We can’t change our personalities. And, after choosing a specialty, very few of us will change to a different specialty. But this doesn’t mean we’re stuck.
It’s possible to exploit our non-dominant personality temperaments to optimize our compatibility within our specialty field and maximize our income potential.
A quick overview of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator
The Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment has been used since the 1960s as a way to systematically reveal differences in how people make decisions and perceive the world. It assigns a person a dominant trait in each of four principle psychological functions:
- Introversion (I) or Extraversion (E): Where do you get your energy
- Sensing (S) or Intuitive (N): How you gather information
- Thinking (T) or Feeling (F): How you make decisions
- Judging (J) or Perceiving (P): How you order your life
It’s been estimated that approximately 2 million people take the MBTI test each year. It is widely accepted as a useful tool to understand yourself and those around you.
Often, portrayals of different Myers Briggs personality types aren’t supported by specific data. For example, you might have heard that ENTPs are especially entrepreneurial or that ISFPs are “adventurers.” These generalizations may not be backed by data, but can be helpful in wrapping your head around your personality test results.
Studies have found marked differences in the careers pursued by people of different personality types, suggesting that personality type plays an important role in the work that we’re good at and find fulfilling.
Personality type and specialty choice among doctors
There’s been a modest amount of research on the correlation between personality type and specialty choice among doctors.
General findings indicate that those who score high in either Feeling or Introversion are more likely to work in primary care specialties than other specialties.
Several studies have found that those in surgical specialties (including general surgery and its subspecialties ENT, ophthalmology, orthopedic surgery, and urology) tend to be Extraverted and Thinkers. One survey found that more specialized surgeons (eg, neurological, plastic) have a higher likelihood of being Sensors than other surgeons.
On the other hand, Introverted and Feeling physicians are more likely to go into nonsurgical specialties.
The common personality types and traits for various specialties
Anesthesiology: Doctors in this specialty are likely to be ISTPs or ISFPs.
Cardiology: The most common type in one study was ISTP.
Family medicine: One study found that the most common personality type among family physicians is ESTJ, though another found that family docs are more likely to be Feeling that physicians in other primary care specialties (including internal medicine and pediatrics).
Internal medicine: No one personality type dominates, though the highest percentage were ESTJs.
Ob/gyn: One study found that gynecologists are likely to display Extraversion and Sensing personality characteristics, and another found that many are Sensing-Thinking-Judging (STJ) types.
Pathology: Have a tendency toward Introversion, Intuition, and Thinking (INT).
Pediatrics: A large proportion of pediatricians were in the ESFJ or ISFJ personality types in one study, but another study didn’t identify a dominate personality type in the field.
Psychiatry: Tend to score high in the Introversion-Feeling-Perceiving domains (IFP).
Radiology: No distinguishable personality types. (Any comment on this, Xrayvsn?)
Surgery: Surgeons have a high likelihood of being Extroverted and Sensing.
It’s acceptable to have reservations about the information above. Several of the studies from which I retrieved the above information are quite old, and they all used different methodologies.
How personality type correlates with income
In contrast to the attention that’s been paid to personality type and career choice, there has been far less focus on how personality type influences general career outcomes.
A recent study of over 4000 volunteers from the general population, though, sheds some light on Myers-Briggs type and how it impacts income. What researchers found is that certain personality characteristics garner higher incomes. Overall, Extraverts, Sensors, Thinkers, and Judgers have higher average incomes than their counterparts.
The chart below shows the differences in average yearly income between the two characteristics for each personality domain.
Combining the various personality domains, the five personality types with the highest incomes were all Judging types, and the top three were also Thinking types.
This next graph demonstrates the average yearly income for each of the 16 personality types:
Here’s how their results compare to an earlier study (whose methodology is unclear):
Physician personality type and income
To my knowledge, there are no studies like these that have surveyed a physician audience. I expect there would be a lot of similarities. We know that surgical specialists – who tend to be Extraverted and Sensing – earn more than Introverted, Feeling primary care specialists.
In the salary study described above, a common theme among higher income earners have was that they manage more people. Those with management responsibilities tend to have higher salaries. In one physician study, over 85% of non-clinical physicians – most in executive or administrative positions – were Thinker-Judger (TJ) types, compared to only 43% of physicians overall.
How to maximize your physician salary by making your personality type work for you
What are the implications of all this for physicians?
First, it’s likely that the same overall trends seen in personality characteristics correlated with income in the general population are true for physicians, as well. But the differences are probably more extreme. This is because personality type impacts specialty choice, and there are big differences in salary between the lowest and highest paid physician specialties.
So, if you have a high-income personality type and you chose a high-paying specialty, you’re golden.
But for those physicians with personality characteristics that tend to have lower incomes and who also pursued a lower-paying specialty, all is not lost. There is a lot you can do to maximize your income potential with the personality characteristics you have – without changing careers or switching specialties.
We generally can’t change our personality types. However, there is evidence that personalities shift subtly over time. And, more importantly, we have control over changes in our behaviors.
Here are a few recommendations to make the most of your personality type as a medical professional:
- Capitalize on your higher-earning personality characteristics. If you naturally have a high-earning personality characteristic, use it to your advantage. As one example, extraverts should consider taking on management responsibilities, which often are accompanied by increases in compensation.
- Adopt behaviors of other personality types. Judgers tend to earn higher incomes. A Perceiving physician can work on adopting a system for staying organized in his or her practice. Alternatively, he or she can hire a practice manager or other staff member to assist with this.
- Use your knowledge of your personality type to make smart career decisions. One of the main purposes of the Myers-Briggs indicator and other personality tests is for people to know and understand themselves. Once you know your personality, use it to understand your tendencies and make wise choices when considering job changes, promotions, and other career decisions.
- Don’t waste energy pursuing a path that doesn’t suit your personality. As mentioned above, our personality types stick with us for the long term. If it’s exhausting for you to act like an extrovert, accept your interovertedness. Rather than take a management position that pays more but that you wouldn’t enjoy, consider a starting a side gig that would allow you to earn extra income without much interaction with others.
- Medical students and interns who haven’t yet selected a specialty: choose wisely. Consider both income potential and what fits best with your personality.
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