What Influences a Trainee's Decision to Choose Pediatric Dermatology as a Career?

Doug Brunk

July 14, 2022

INDIANAPOLIS — Three factors that may encourage trainees to pursue a career in pediatric dermatology include early exposure to the subspecialty during medical school, mentorship by a board-certified pediatric dermatologist at the trainee's home institution, and increased salary benefits during and after fellowship.

Those are key findings from a survey of current and prior pediatric dermatology fellows, which sought to investigate what factors influence their career decisions.

The study authors, from left: Dr Lucia Diaz, Dr Courtney Haller, Dr Moise Levy, and Dr Jennifer Ruth of the Department of Dermatology, Dell Medical School, University of Texas at Austin

According to the study's principal investigator, Lucia Z. Diaz, MD, pediatric dermatology suffers from workforce shortages and geographic maldistribution as a subspecialty in the United States. She also noted that, from 2016 to 2021, 100% of pediatric dermatology applicants matched, yet about 15 of every 31 positions remained unfilled during each of those years. This suggests that there may be a lack of trainee mentorship secondary to a lack of available pediatric dermatologists.

“Somewhere along the way, we lose trainees to general dermatology, or they may go through a pediatric dermatology fellowship but not actually see children upon completion of their training," Diaz, chief of pediatric dermatology at the University of Texas at Austin, said in an interview at the annual meeting of the Society for Pediatric Dermatology, where the study was presented during a poster session. “We wanted to find out factors influencing this."

For the study, Diaz, Courtney N. Haller, MD, a first-year dermatology resident at the University of Texas at Austin, and their colleagues emailed a 37-item survey to 59 current and prior pediatric dermatology fellows who trained in the United States in the past 4 years (classes of 2019-2022). Current fellows were asked to share their future plans, and past fellows were asked to share details about their current practice situation including practice type (such as academics, private practice, and a mix of adult and pediatrics), and the researchers used descriptive statistics and chi-square analyses to evaluate qualitative data.

In all, 41 survey participants gave complete responses, and 3 gave partial responses. Of these, 8 were current fellows, 36 were past fellows, and 38 were female. The researchers found that 67% of survey respondents first became interested in pediatric dermatology in medical school, while the decision to pursue a fellowship occurred then (33%) or during their third year of dermatology residency (33%). Early exposure to pediatric dermatology, from medical school through dermatology PGY-2, was significantly associated with an early decision to pursue a pediatric dermatology career (= .004).

In addition, respondents at institutions with two or more pediatric dermatology faculty were significantly more likely to cite home institution mentorship as an influencing factor in their career decision (= .035).

“I thought that the interest in pediatric dermatology would peak early on during dermatology residency, but it primarily happens during medical school," said Diaz, who is also associate director of the dermatology residency program at the medical school. “Mentorship and early exposure to pediatric dermatology during medical school are really important."

The top three factors that discouraged respondents from pursuing a pediatric dermatology fellowship included a lack of salary benefit with additional training (83%), additional time required to complete training (73%), and geographic relocation (20%). After fellowship, 51% of respondents said they plan to or currently work in academic settings, while 88% said they plan to work full time or currently were working full time.

Interestingly, fellows with additional pediatric training such as an internship or residency were not more likely to see a greater percentage of pediatric patients in practice than those without this training (= .14). The top 3 reasons for not seeing pediatric patients 100% of the clinical time were interest in seeing adult patients (67%), financial factors (56%), and interest in performing more procedures (56%).

In other findings, the top three factors in deciding practice location were proximity to extended family (63%), practice type (59%), and income (51%).

Adelaide A. Hebert, MD, who was asked to comment on the study, said that the lack of salary benefit from additional training is a sticking point for many fellows. “The market trends of supply and demand do not work in pediatric dermatology," said Hebert, professor of dermatology and pediatrics, and chief of pediatric dermatology at the University of Texas, Houston. “You would think that, because there are fewer of us, we should be paid more, but it does not work that way."

She characterized the overall study findings as “a real testament to what the challenges are" in recruiting trainees to pediatric dermatology. “The influence of mentors resonates in this assessment, but influences that are somewhat beyond our control also play a role, such as lack of salary benefit from additional training, interest in seeing adult patients, and financial factors."

Neither the researchers nor Hebert reported having relevant financial disclosures.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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