Rural temperament and character: a new perspective on retention of rural doctors

Aust J Rural Health. 2008 Feb;16(1):12-22. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1584.2007.00946.x.


Objective: This exploratory study serves as a starting point to establish a psychobiological profile for rural GPs. The overall aim is to describe how individual levels and combinations of temperament (mildly heritable) and character (influenced by sociocultural learning) traits allow GPs to flourish or fail in rural medicine.

Design: In a mixed-method study, 13 rural GPs (rural and remote metropolitan areas 5-7, minimum 7 years of experience) from Central/Southern Queensland, Australia completed the Temperament and Character Inventory-R140 to identify the intensity of the seven basic dimensions of temperament and character. These are novelty seeking, harm avoidance, reward dependence, persistence, self-directedness, cooperativenes and self-transcendence. Semistructured interviews provided in-depth information on what brought them to and kept them in rural practice.

Results: Preliminary results show that our sample of rural GPs are highly self directed, caring, cooperative, objective and persistent. Individual variations occur in the temperament dimensions of harm avoidance, novelty seeking and reward dependence. In particular, GPs who intended to leave rural practice due to dissatisfaction had significantly higher harm avoidance (F = 23.74; P < 0.01) than those GPs intent on staying.

Conclusion: Although preliminary, triangulation of the data sources provides insight into individual GP profiles regarding which particular combination of traits is most conducive to maintaining a rural career, and might provide a greater understanding of rural doctors. This information could provide a basis for counselling of students with an interest in rural medicine and for informing policy on appropriate initiatives for rural GPs and the communities they serve.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Career Choice
  • Character*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Personality Inventory
  • Personnel Turnover*
  • Physicians, Family / organization & administration
  • Physicians, Family / psychology*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Professional Practice Location
  • Qualitative Research
  • Queensland
  • Rural Health Services* / organization & administration
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Temperament*
  • Vocational Guidance