Objective: To explore the attitudes of Australian medical students to the balance between work, family and other aspects of lifestyle, within a broader exploration of the issues that they regard as important to their decisions about future career.
Design: Qualitative study using semistructured focus groups and individual interviews.
Setting: The three medical schools in New South Wales and a national conference for students interested in rural practice.
Participants: First- and final-year medical students who volunteered for focus groups held between March and August 2002 (82 students in 10 groups) or for individual interviews held between July and December 2003 (48 students).
Main outcome measures: Emergent themes relating to the balance of work, family and other aspects of lifestyle.
Results: Most students referred to a balance of work, family and lifestyle as an important factor in their career decisions. While indicating they were committed to medicine, they were unwilling to work to the exclusion of all else. Most saw family commitments as a high priority, and many saw "time out" as important in maintaining their health. Female students spoke of part-time work as essential for future happiness, while some male students expressed a preference for working part-time. They would seek to achieve balance by choosing to work in disciplines, locations and structures where limited-hours work is available, and would negotiate support from their partners and parents in caring for children.
Conclusions: It is important that the medical profession continue to develop working and training structures that allow a balance of work, family and lifestyle.