Background and objectives: A trend away from primary care (PC) to other specialties has been noted in Switzerland, as well as in the health-care systems of many other Western countries. The objective of the present study was to ascertain how many third-year residents graduating in 2001/02 from medical schools in German-speaking Switzerland wanted to become PC physicians (PCPs), whether this career goal was continuously followed, and how many subjects switched to or away from PC during residency.
Methods: Data reported are from the third assessment of the longitudinal Swiss physicians' career development study, begun in 2001. In 2005, at the third assessment, 515 residents (53.8% females, 46.2% males) were asked what specialty qualifications and career goals they aspired to. In addition, participants' socio-demographic, personality, and career-related characteristics as well as their life goals were addressed.
Results: Of n = 515 (total sample) third-year residents, 81 had not yet decided on the medical field in which they wished to specialise, while 434 had made this decision. Of the latter, only 42 (9.7%) aspired to become PCPs. Twelve of the 42 future PCPs consistently mentioned PC as a career goal from graduation throughout residency. The other 30 subjects only decided on PC during the course of their residencies. A switch away from PC was also noted in the case of 19 subjects who on graduation or after the first year of residency aspired to become PCPs, but abandoned this goal after three years of residency. Future PCPs differ from those pursuing other specialties in terms of personal and career-related characteristics, as well as in their life goals, insofar as they are less career-orientated and regard having more time outside work a priority. There are few gender-based differences between female and male future PCPs.
Conclusion: Primary care seems to hold little attraction as a career goal for young physicians. Residency experiences would seem to have more of an effect on choice of specialty than teaching experiences during medical school. The percentage of subjects qualifying in PC is far too low to fill the need for the future generation of PCPs. In addition to efforts to incorporate PC issues into medical school curricula, structured residency programs should be established to promote PC.