To read this content please select one of the options below:

Personality and occupational specialty: An examination of medical specialties using Holland’s RIASEC model

Stephen A Woods (University of Surrey, Guildford, United Kingdom)
Fiona C Patterson (Department of Psychology, Cambridge University, Cambridge , UK)
Bart Wille (Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium)
Anna Koczwara (Work Psychology Group, Derby, United Kingdom)

Career Development International

ISSN: 1362-0436

Article publication date: 13 June 2016




The purpose of this paper is to re-examine the role of personality in occupational specialty choice, to better understand how and in what ways personality traits might influence vocational development after a person has chosen a career.


The study tested hypotheses in a sample of UK medical students, each of whom had chosen their specialty pathway, and completed a measure of the Big Five personality traits. Associations of the junior doctor’s Big Five personality traits with the Holland’s realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising, conventional (RIASEC) profiles of their medical specialty selections (derived from the O*NET database) were examined.


Findings provided good support for the hypotheses. Junior doctors’ agreeableness (with social) and neuroticism (with realistic, artistic and enterprising) were the main predictors of the RIASEC profiles of their specialty selections.

Research limitations/implications

The findings suggest that personality traits influence specialty selection in predictable ways, and differently compared to occupational choice. The paper discusses findings within a theoretical framework that explains how and why trait influences on within occupational specialty selection differ from influences on occupational interest and choice more broadly. The potential mechanisms underlying these associations are explored in the context of motivational aspects of agreeableness and neuroticism.

Practical implications

Within-occupation specialties should feature in career guidance discussions and interventions more explicitly to enable people to decide whether occupational specialties are available that appeal to their individual differences.


This is the first study to examine the relations of personality and occupational specialty through the lens of the RIASEC model, and the first to propose cross-occupation theoretical pathways from personality to specialty choice. The data from the field of medicine enable us to test the propositions in a suitably diverse set of occupational specialties.



Woods, S.A., Patterson, F.C., Wille, B. and Koczwara, A. (2016), "Personality and occupational specialty: An examination of medical specialties using Holland’s RIASEC model", Career Development International, Vol. 21 No. 3, pp. 262-278.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Related articles