Guidelines for MBTI assessors

These guidelines have been provided for accredited practitioners trained in using Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessments. They explain how MBTI results can be used to assist medical students and doctors in training with their career planning.

Why have these guidelines been written?

As an accredited MBTI user, you will have been asked by a medical student or doctor in training to administer, score and provide feedback on their MBTI assessment. If you are not familiar with using MBTI profiles to help medical students or doctors in training with the task of choosing their medical specialty, you may find these guidelines useful in planning your feedback.

In addition to explaining the links, or otherwise, between personality and specialty choice, this note provides a summary of recent, relevant research findings.

What is the evidence of a link between personality type and specialty choice?

A recent comprehensive review of the evidence of a link between personality type and specialty choice (which included studies on the MBTI as well as on five-factor model measures of personality) concluded the following:

‘There is more variation in personality traits within medical specialties than between them. Accordingly, one must conclude that all personality types appear in all specialties, and then assert that more than one specialty fits the personality of any particular medical student.’ (Borges and Savickas, 2002)

These authors go on to make the following important point:

‘This should not be interpreted to mean that personality assessment should not be included in specialty counselling. Personality should still be included as one of the many factors that students consider in choosing a specialty. The underlying purpose in using personality assessments in medical specialty counselling has been to help medical students increase their self-knowledge. Self exploration of this kind is a useful part of the decision-making process. The results of self-analysis can also be used effectively to narrow the number of specialties to include.’

Thus, a simple ‘diagnostic’ approach (linking a particular personality type to a particular specialty) is not supported by the research evidence. Instead, as an experienced MBTI practitioner, you need to share your understanding of the occupational preferences of your client’s MBTI profile, and facilitate a discussion of the possible implications of this profile for the various specialties that they may be considering. In effect, as an experienced practitioner your task is to help your client explore the ways in which a particular personality type might be able to realise their potential in a particular specialty, and also the ways in which that particular personality type might find certain aspects of a specialty very demanding.

This does not mean you need to be an expert in the nature of work in all the different medical specialties. Instead, you need to share your understanding of the typical occupational implications of your client’s MBTI type, so that they are provided with a list of issues that they may need to consider further.

Does an individual’s MBTI score stay constant throughout their medical training?

There is some evidence that personality type may change over time, particularly with young people.

For example, a US study compared MBTI results in a group of medical students who took the test during their first year of medical school, and again during their final year. Of those students, 56 per cent changed their personality type preferences on one or more of the MBTI indices (Brown and Peppler, 1994).

This means that, particularly in the early stages of medical training, it is important to avoid giving the impression that the MBTI profile is set in stone, as it might alter over time in at least one of the four dimensions.

Are patterns linking particular MBTI profiles with particular types of medical roles stable over time?

The actual nature of different medical specialties does not stay constant over time. Instead, the introduction of new techniques and drugs, as well as changes in the organisation of health services, impacts on the nature of work that people do in a particular specialty. It is therefore not surprising that some evidence shows common personality profiles found in particular specialties may change over time (Taylor et al, 1990).

Many of the studies linking MBTI profiles to particular specialties were carried out 20 to 30 years ago. When referring to such data, it is always important to check when the studies were carried out and to encourage your client to find out whether there have been significant changes in their specialties of interest during that time period.

What about the relevance of US data to the UK context?

The majority of studies linking MBTI type to specialty choice were carried out in the US. So again, it is important to be cautious, as there can be subtle but significant differences in the way a particular specialty is practised in the UK and the US. Your understanding of the occupational tasks that a particular MBTI type may enjoy and those that they may find more difficult could be more helpful, encouraging your client to explore how this maps onto the tasks typically entailed in the specialties in which they are showing most interest.

Does the MBTI capture all the relevant personality dimensions?

Unlike the Five-Factor Model (FFM) measures of personality, the MBTI does not assess the ‘Neuroticism’ dimension. Yet this dimension also has an impact on occupational behaviour. (Furnham, 1994)

So what is the best way to use data linking particular specialties to particular MBTI profiles?

In summary:

  • There is more variation in personality type within than between specialties.
  • An individual’s MBTI profile may change over the course of their medical training.
  • The nature of specialties changes over time, so you need to check when a particular study was carried out.
  • The nature of specialties may differ in different healthcare systems
  • MBTI profiles don’t include an assessment of ‘neuroticism’, which may also have a bearing on an individual’s choice of specialty.

Taking these points together, it is clear that a simple diagnostic approach, i.e. determining common profile types in each specialty, and informing your client that they need to choose their specialty from this shortlist, is not supported by the research evidence.

Medical student and doctors in training are still likely to benefit from exploring the possible implications of their personality type for the specialties that they are currently considering.

If your client has arrived for an MBTI assessment because they haven’t got a clue about which specialties might suit them, then you can use the list below to generate ideas that they may want to explore further. But it should be clear from this brief review of the literature that a narrowly prescriptive approach which gives the impression that you can use an MBTI profile to ‘diagnose’ which specialty would suit them – should be avoided at all costs.

Medical specialties by temperament

MBTI personality type

Specialty ideas for further exploration

Introverted-Sensing-Thinking-Judging
(ISTJ)

Dermatology
Obstetrics-gynaecology
Family practice
Urology
Orthopaedic surgery

Introverted-Sensing-Feeling-Judging
(ISFJ)

Anaesthesiology
Ophthalmology
General practice
Family practice
Paediatrics

Introverted-Sensing-Thinking-Perceptive
(ISTP)

Otolaryngology
Anaesthesiology
Radiology
Ophthalmology
General practice

Introverted-Sensing-Feeling-Perceptive
(ISFP)

Anaesthesiology
Urology
Family practice
Thoracic surgery
General practice

Introverted-Intuitive-Feeling-Judging
(INFJ)

Psychiatry
Internal medicine
Thoracic surgery
General surgery
Pathology

Extroverted-Sensing-Thinking-Judging
(ESTJ)

Obstetrics & gynaecology
General practice
General surgery
Orthopaedic surgery
Paediatrics

Extroverted-Sensing-Feeling-Judging
(ESFJ)

Paediatrics
Orthopaedic surgery
Otolaryngology
General practice
Internal medicine

Extroverted-Intuitive-Feeling-Perceptive
(ENFP)

Psychiatry
Dermatology
Otolaryngology
Psychiatry
Paediatrics

Introverted-Intuitive-Thinking-Judging
(INTJ)

Psychiatry
Pathology
Neurology
Internal medicine
Anaesthesiology

Introverted-Intuitive-Feeling-Perceptive
(INFP)

Psychiatry
Cardiology
Neurology
Dermatology
Pathology

Introverted-Intuitive-Thinking-Perceptive
(INTP)

Neurology
Pathology
Psychiatry
Cardiology
Thoracic surgery

Extroverted-Sensing-Thinking-Perceptive
(ESTP)

Orthopaedic surgery
Dermatology
Family practice
Radiology
General surgery

Extroverted-Sensing-Feeling-Perceptive
(ESFP)

Ophthalmology
Thoracic surgery
Obstetrics-gynaecology
Orthopaedic surgery
General surgery

Extroverted-Intuitive-Thinking-Perceptive
(ENTP)

Otolaryngology
Psychiatry
Radiology
Paediatrics
Pathology

Extroverted-Intuitive-Feeling-Judging
(ENFJ)

Thoracic surgery
Dermatology
Psychiatry
Ophthalmology
Radiology

Extroverted-Intuitive-Thinking-Judging
(ENTJ)

Neurology
Cardiology
Urology
Thoracic surgery
Internal medicine

(Source: Freeman, 2004)

This guidance note has been compiled by Dr Caroline Elton C.Psychol, Head of Careers Planning– Health Education London LETB for NHS Medical Careers.

References

  • Borges, N. J. and Savickas, M. L. (2002). Personality and medical specialty choice: a literature review and interrogation . Journal of Career Assessment, 10, 362-380.
  • Brown, F. and Peppler, R. D., (1994). Changes in medical students’ Myers-Briggs “preferences” between their first and fourth years of school. Academic Medicine. 69, 244.
  • Furnham, A. (1994). Personality at work. London. Routledge.
  • Taylor, A. D., Clark, C., and Sinclair, A. E. (1990). Personality types of family practice residents in the 1980s. Academic Medicine. 65, 216-218

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