Objective: To monitor the future career preferences of medical students throughout their undergraduate years and into their postgraduate career, and to evaluate which factors may influence career choice intentions, and when this happens, over time.
Design: Longitudinal study.
Methods: Questionnaire to all Aberdeen, United Kingdom, Medical School entrants in 1996, and five annual follow-ups (four undergraduate, one postgraduate).
Results: Response rates: year 1, 100%; year 2, 78%; year 3, 70%; year 4, 64%; year 5, 65%; pre-registration house officer (PRHO), 60%. Throughout the study, females were more positive about a career in general practice. General practice was the first choice for 13% of students in year 1; year 2, 9%; year 3, 22%; year 4, 24%; year 5, 27%; PRHO, 29%. Those choosing general practice were more likely than those choosing other specialties to be female, have their family home in Scotland, rate their academic abilities lower and their non-academic abilities as average, and have decided on their future career earlier. Reasons for general practice included: working in and being part of a community; continuity of patient contact; variety of illnesses and people encountered; undergraduate teaching experiences; dislike of or disillusionment with hospital medicine; and an increasing awareness of part-time opportunities.
Conclusion: As medical undergraduates progressed through the curriculum and became PRHOs, general practice became more popular as a career choice, particularly with females. This may be partly explained by the increased exposure to general practitioners and patients in the new community-based teaching programme and the increasing awareness of lifestyle advantages with the particular benefits of more regular hours and working part time.