Introduction: Since the launch of Modernising Medical Careers, trainees are selected for a run-through training programme in a single surgical specialty. The surgical training bodies are currently considering the recommendations of the Tooke report as they review the policy for selection into surgical training in the UK. There is little information available on the factors involved in career choices amongst surgical trainees and this study aimed to address this issue.
Method: Trainees appointed to the Basic Surgical Training Programmes in the west and south-east of Scotland (1996-2006) were contacted by email and invited to participate in an online survey.
Results: Of 467 trainees identified, valid email addresses were available for 299 of which 191 (64%) responded to the survey. One hundred and forty-nine (78%) trainees were still working in surgery but 38 (20%) had moved to a non-surgical specialty and 4 (2%) had left the medical profession. Of those who had obtained a NTN at the time of the survey (n = 138), 62 (45%) had a NTN in the specialty they chose at the start of the BST but 34 (25%) had changed to a different surgical specialty and 42 (30%) had left surgery altogether. For those still working in surgery, enjoyment of the specialty was the most important factor affecting career choice. Achieving an acceptable work/life balance was the most significant factor influencing trainees who left surgery.
Conclusion: The majority of trainees recruited to surgery at an early stage change specialty or leave surgery altogether. Both social and professional factors are important in career choices. The findings of this study support a period of core surgical training to provide flexibility prior to further training in a surgical specialty.