Objective: This study aimed to explore the effect of gender on medical students' aspirations.
Methods: The study design included purposive sampling and interim data interpretation to guide recruitment of medical students with a wide spectrum of opinions. Data were collected through audio-recorded, semi-structured, in-depth exploratory interviews, which were transcribed verbatim. Qualitative analysis was carried out by a female medical student researcher. Her evolving interpretation was constantly compared against the original data by male (doctor) and female (pharmacist) staff researchers in a systematic search for internal corroboration or disconfirmation. Causal associations consistently present in the data are reported.
Results: Six male and six female medical students in Years 3 and 4 shared a wish to achieve a work-life balance that allowed them to devote time to bringing up children while contributing usefully to society as doctors. However, women were readier to compromise professional attainment within their personal work-life balances. Their readiness derived from gendered stereotypes of women's social and professional roles, a lack of female professional role models, womens' greater awareness of the tensions between career and family, various other informal social influences, and a lack of positive career advice to counterbalance these influences.
Conclusions: Better career advice and more flexible work opportunities are needed if the two-thirds of medical students who are women are to contribute specialist as well as generalist expertise to the medical workforce.