Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access

Award Date


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department / School

Sociology and Rural Studies

First Advisor

Donald Arwood


self-identities, self-motives, social action


The purpose of this study was to answer the research question: Does a self theory of social action account for female physicians’ perceptions of past choice of specialty? Perceptions of self changed as she prepared herself to become a physician. During her medical training, a medical student gains a better sense of who she is as a person who will become a doctor. The ability to act back on one’s self, called selfreflexivity, is the mechanism involved in the transitions of a physician’s biographical self. The data for this study was collected through interviews centered on questions chosen from the literature review on specialty choice. Twenty female physicians were interviewed from ten different specialties over a five-month period. All twenty physicians were residents, practicing physicians, or retired physicians. A social action theory, influenced by structural symbolic interactionism, was developed to explain the physician’s perceived influence on specialty choice. The choice of specialty is a role performance which relies on the female medical student’s desire for confirmation of her self-related motives. These self-related motives were formed during her relations with others, which were then played out within certain societal and structural conditions. Based on the findings, the theory of social action was able to account for female physicians’ perceived influences of self on role performances as the verification of role, social and personal identities were legitimized by three types of motives: self-worth; self-efficacy, and self-authenticity. Although the theory did not predict more than one identity would occur at a time, this study contributed to the findings that all three types of identities can operate in one time frame and be confirmed by one or more motives. This study was not able to account for aligning actions as found in the theory of social action and only one account of reflected appraisal was observed. In addition to the theory of social action, new codes described identities with no motives and described “cooling out the mark” from the theory of dramaturgy.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Women physicians

Medicine -- Specialties and specialists

Identity (Psychology)



Includes bibliographical references (page 103-110)



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University



Rights Statement

In Copyright