- BACKGROUND: Choosing a medical specialty requires medical students to match their interests and social-cultural situations with their perceptions of the various specialties.Objectives Examine Israeli 6th-year medical students' perceptions of six key specialties: pediatrics, orthopedic surgery, anesthesiology, obstetrics/gynecology, general surgery and family medicine. METHODS: Questionnaires distributed to 355 6th-year students from three successive classes (2008--2010) of 6th-year students at the Hebrew University -- Hadassah School of Medicine, Jerusalem, Israel and the 2010 class of the Ben Gurion University School of Medicine, Be'er Sheva, Israel. RESULTS: Responses were obtained from 234 students, for a response rate of 66%. Pediatrics and obstetrics/gynecology were the specialties most often under positive career consideration by individual students. Anesthesiology and general surgery were least often under positive career consideration and were viewed as being in a workforce crisis. Pediatrics and family medicine, found to be especially popular among women, were perceived by 58% and 78% of respondents, respectively, as providing reasonable ratios of lifestyle to income. None of the students thought the same about general surgery and only 28% thought so about anesthesiology. Pediatrics and obstetrics/gynecology were reported to afford a controllable lifestyle by 63% and 8%, respectively, With respect to positive career considerations and lifestyle perceptions, there were no differences between the opinions of men and women students. Differences between genders arose in responses to queries of whether a specialty was interesting and challenging. Women were more likely than men to perceive pediatrics and family medicine as interesting and challenging while men were more likely to think that general and orthopedic surgery are interesting and challenging. CONCLUSIONS: Knowing the medical students' perceptions of the various specialties should help in understanding the maldistribution of physicians among the various specialties. Such data can also be an important input into the efforts of the healthcare leadership to promote a specialty distribution that matches the population's evolving needs.