Rethinking Career Exploration Interventions to Influence Student Help-Seeking Perspectives : Academic Medicine

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Rethinking Career Exploration Interventions to Influence Student Help-Seeking Perspectives

Hurtado, Thomas EdD1; Wilkinson, Sam MD1; Battaglia, Bridger MD1; Gilbertson, Ellen MD1; Shipman, Hank1; Robinson, Mercedes1; O’Brien, Karlie1; Shayman, Corey1; Gelhard, Savannah1; Wilde, Brandon1; Fix, Megan MD1; Anderson, Katherine MD1; Tsai, Tony MBA1; Wonsor, Brittany1; Stevenson, Adam MD1; Richards, Boyd PhD1

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doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000004304
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This study explored: Will a career exploration program influence students’ help-seeking perspectives regarding early career exploration?


Medical students begin considering specialty choices during the first year of medical school, which is much earlier than originally thought. 1 Querido et al 2 suggest that institutional efforts should promote and support early specialty exploration in medical school. Unfortunately, Artino et al 3 noted that medical students avoid seeking help including for specialty exploration because they do not want to look bad in front of others. Identifying the benefits of overcoming help-avoidance, Gold et al 4 confirmed that help-seeking behaviors foster supportive faculty relationships to address career indecision.

In response to the challenge to increase help-seeking behaviors early in the curriculum to support purposeful specialty exploration, the University of Utah School of Medicine (UUSOM) developed a co-curricular, opt-in program called RealMD. Based on self-authorship theory, 5 the program engages students beginning in year 1 of training in professional development workshops, individual coaching sessions, a workbook, and networking activities to increase help-seeking around career exploration.


To better understand the impact of the program on help-seeking perspectives, we surveyed 127 second-year medical students who had the opportunity to participate in RealMD. The survey asked students to identify the level of participation at RealMD workshops and coaching sessions. The survey also included questions designed to assess students’ help-seeking perceptions. One set of questions asked students to select from a list of 13 individuals ranging from personal to professional from whom they would seek help for career exploration. Another set asked students to divide up 100 points among a list of 10 factors that potentially influence their success in medical school, including career exploration.

Ninety-seven students responded to the survey (76%); 22 respondents (23%) had attended 0–1 workshops, 58 (60%) had attended 2–6, and 17 (17%) had attended 7 or more. Because our focus was to measure the impact of participation on perceptions, we limited our analysis to the low (0–1) and high (7 or more) attendance groups. We compared responses between low and high attendance groups on both sets of help-seeking items.


With respect to the first set of questions, respondents in the high attendance group more frequently indicated a willingness to seek help from mentors in early career exploration than respondents in the low attendance group (88% versus 48%, respectively; P < .05). On the other hand, the high and low attendance groups did not differ in their responses to questions indicating their willingness to seek help from family, relatives, and friends.

With respect to the second set of questions, the high attendance group recognized the value of purpose and maintaining a personal network when seeking help. Respondents in the high attendance group assigned more points to the purpose influence factor than the low attendance group (14.12 versus 8.45, respectively; P = .009).

The high attendance group also assigned more points to maintaining a personal network including strong relationships with peers than the low attendance group (9.76 versus 6.18, respectively; P = .031).

In comparison, the high attendance and low attendance groups tended to assign similar points to factors such as curriculum (16.47 versus 17.27; P = .823) or service learning (8.35 versus 8.95; P = .729).


Specialty exploration interventions during the first year in the form of opt-in professional development workshops and coaching sessions appear to have a positive impact on attendees’ perceptions of help-seeking. As found by other scholars, help-seeking is an important part of medical student professional development related to early specialty exploration. 2–4


This study provides a basis for further research to examine the impact of early interventions to promote help-seeking perspectives in support of career exploration at UUSOM. Further, results suggest that this kind of program can alter perceptions on help-seeking to optimize early career exploration.


1. Vo A, McLean L, McInnes MDF. Medical specialty preferences in early medical school training in Canada. Int J Med Educ. 2017; 8:400–407
2. Querido S, van den Broek S, de Rond M, Wigersma L, ten Cate O. Factors affecting senior medical students’ career choice. Int J Med Educ. 2018; 9:332–339
3. Artino AR Jr, Dong T, DeZee KJ, et al. Development and initial validation of a survey to assess students’ self-efficacy in medical school. Mil Med. 2012; 177(suppl 9):31–37
4. Gold JA, Johnson B, Leydon G, Rohrbaugh RM, Wilkins KM. Mental health self-care in medical students: A comprehensive look at help-seeking. Acad Psychiatry. 2015; 39:37–46
5. Baxter Magolda MB. Self-authorship. New Dir High Educ. 2014; 2014:25–33
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