Background and objectives: Medical schools have been encouraged to increase the number of primary care graduates. This study determined the proportion of medical students who change specialty preference during the clinical years and explored how ultimate choice is affected by perceptions of medical specialties acquired during this period.
Methods: A survey was mailed to 397 graduating medical students at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) after the National Resident Matching Program Match and before graduation in 1996, 1997, and 1998.
Results: The response rate was 81% (320/397). Of 41 respondents who reported that family practice had been their first specialty choice prior to beginning clinical rotations, only 15 (37%) eventually matched in family practice. Comparable numbers for internal medicine and pediatrics were 50% and 69%. Students rejecting family practice were more likely than their colleagues rejecting other specialties to cite insufficient prestige, low intellectual content, and concern about mastering too broad a content area as reasons.
Conclusions: At UCSF, family practice retains fewer interested students than other primary care specialties. To reverse this trend, schools such as UCSF need to raise the prestige of family practice and counter concerns about its intellectual content being impossible to master.