Aim: Only a minority of Australian graduates are interested in careers in general practice. The factors influencing medical students toward general practice as a career choice are poorly understood, even though this is important to the makeup of the medical workforce.
Methods: We ran 10 focus groups involving 82 first and final year medical students from three Australian medical schools in 2002, and analysed factors influencing participants' interest in working in general practice.
Results: About half the students were interested in general practice. Attractive factors were: the nature of the work (including its diversity), continuity of care, community context, and working conditions (including flexibility of training and work, availability of part time work and portability of qualifications). Negative factors included: the breadth of knowledge needed, boring work (in urban general practice), having to run a business, and working conditions (including relatively poor remuneration, overwork in rural general practice, and poor status of general practitioners). Some students were strongly influenced by negative attitudes of the GPs they were taught by, deciding against general practice as a career.
Discussion: Medical educators and GPs should be aware of this important influence.