Context: It is not known whether factors associated with primary care career choice affect trainees differently at different times or stages of medical education.
Objective: To examine how role models, encouragement, and personal characteristics affect career choice at different stages (medical school vs residency) and periods (1994 vs 1997) of training.
Design: A split-panel design with 2 cross-sectional telephone surveys and a panel survey in 1994 and 1997.
Participants: A national probability sample of fourth-year students (307 in 1994, 219 in 1997), 645 second-year residents in 1994, and 494 third-year residents in 1997. Of the fourth-year students interviewed in 1994, 241 (78.5%) were re-interviewed as third-year residents in 1997.
Main outcome measure: Primary care (general internal medicine, general pediatrics, or family medicine) career choice.
Results: Having a primary care role model was a stronger predictor of primary care career choice for residents (odds ratio [OR], 18.0; 95% confidence interval [95% CI], 11.2 to 28.8 in 1994; OR, 43.7; 95% CI, 24.4 to 78.3 in 1997) than for students (OR, 6.5; 95% CI, 4.3 to 10.2; no variation by year). Likewise, peer encouragement was more predictive for residents (OR, 5.4; 95% CI, 3.3 to 8.9 in 1994; OR, 16.6; 95% CI; 9.7 to 28.4 in 1997) than for students (OR, 2.1; 95% CI, 1.3 to 3.2; no variation by year). Orientation to the emotional aspects of care was consistently associated with primary care career choice across stages and years of training.
Conclusions: The effect of peer encouragement and role models on career choice differed for students and residents and, in the case of residents, by year of training, suggesting that interventions to increase the primary care workforce should be tailored to stage of training.