Career choice in academic medicine: systematic review

J Gen Intern Med. 2006 Dec;21(12):1222-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1525-1497.2006.00599.x.


Objectives: To review systematically the evidence about what factors influence the decision to choose or not choose a career in academic medicine.

Design: A systematic review of relevant literature from 1990 to May 2005.

Data sources: Searches of The Cochrane Library, Medline (using Ovid and PubMed) from 1990 to May 2005, and EMBASE from 1990 to May 2005 were completed to identify relevant studies that explored the influential factors. Additional articles were identified from searching the bibliographies of retrieved articles.

Selection of studies: We attempted to identify studies that included residents, fellows, or staff physicians. No restrictions were placed on the study methodologies identified and all articles presenting empirical evidence were retrieved. For cohort, case-control, and cross-sectional studies, minimum inclusion criteria were the presence of defined groups, and the ability to extract relevant data. For surveys that involved case series, minimum inclusion criteria were a description of the population, and the availability of extractable data. Minimum inclusion criteria for qualitative studies were descriptions of the sampling strategy and methods.

Results: The search identified 251 abstracts; 25 articles were included in this review. Completion of an MD with a graduate degree or fellowship program is associated with a career in academic medicine. Of the articles identified in this review, this finding is supported by the highest quality of evidence. Similarly, the completion of research and publication of this research in medical school and residency are associated with a career in academic medicine. The desire to teach, conduct research, and the intellectual stimulation and challenge provided in academia may also persuade people to choose this career path. The influence of a role model or a mentor was reported by physicians to impact their decision making. Trainees' interest in academic medicine wanes as they progress through their residency.

Conclusions: In order to revitalize academic medicine, we must engage trainees and retain their interest throughout their training. Research opportunities for medical students, and fellowships or graduate training can meet this challenge and influence career choice. Initiatives to stimulate and maintain interest in academic medicine should be evaluated in prospective studies across multiple sites.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Academic Medical Centers*
  • Career Choice*
  • Faculty, Medical*
  • Humans
  • Motivation