Gaps In Pediatricians' Professional Values

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Pediatricians

A Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) study published in this month's issue of The Journal of Pediatrics demonstrated that future pediatricians underestimate the value of teaching and research in their careers. For the nation, that could mean fewer pediatric specialists and researchers.

The results speak largely about female pediatricians and their values, as females accounted for more than 70 percent of pediatric residencies in 2002, and numbers continue to climb.

"The findings of this study are sounding alarm bells because we have an unprecedented number of basic research discoveries and new therapies that are ready for testing," said Bernie Maria, M.D., MUSC Darby Children's Research Institute executive director and principal investigator of the study. "Although doing research may be more important to established doctors, the low value placed on scholarship, especially among women entering the field of pediatrics, is problematic. We must do a better job of mentoring talented young investigators so children can benefit fully from today's research."

Study participants included recently graduated medical students registered to use the Careers in Medicine (CiM) website, operated by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), who chose pediatrics as their specialty and who had been in residency training for 2 years or less.

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Participants completed the Physician Values in Practice Scale (PVIPS), a measure of personal values related to medicine which includes prestige (desire to be recognized by others as a top physician), service (desire to care for others regardless of financial gains or other rewards), autonomy (importance of freedom, independence, and control over clinical decision making), lifestyle (desire for a predictable and stable work schedule), management (desire to supervise others), and scholarly pursuits (desire to engage in clinical or basic research, scholarship, academic medicine, and teaching).

When compared to other values, autonomy and lifestyle were the top-ranked values overall among medical students from all disciplines. This finding is interesting given the current shift to emphasizing teams of physicians and scientists.

Similar to other disciplines, future pediatricians see freedom, independence, control over clinical decision making, and work-life balance as most important.

At the national level, George Richard, Ph.D., director of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Careers in Medicine Program, sees a paradox in what is valued most by future pediatricians when compared with what is needed to maintain and advance the pediatrics field.

"Medical students need to find a place in the world of work where they can function most effectively," he said. "Our research points to some of the important factors that help them do that, while at the same time informing educators about the impact of the environment on the ability to reach one's full potential."

The authors suggest the value gaps could be the result of low numbers of women in academic leadership roles and residents' current role models may underestimate the importance of scholarship in environments where clinical quotas are the goal.

"We will now examine generational differences in values because older generations have the responsibility to prepare this new wave of young physicians, and to close gaps in projected workforce shortages in pediatrics and other fields of medicine," Maria said.

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