Introduction: Australian medical education is increasingly influenced by rural workforce policy. Therefore, understanding the influences on medical graduates' practice location and specialty choice is crucial for medical educators and medical workforce planners. The South Australian Flinders University Parallel Rural Community Curriculum (PRCC) was funded by the Australian Government to help address the rural doctor workforce shortage. The PRCC was the first community based medical education program in Australia to teach a full academic year of medicine in South Australian rural general practices. The aim of this research was to identify what factors influence the career choices of PRCC graduates.
Methods: A retrospective survey of all contactable graduates of the PRCC was undertaken. Quantitative data were analysed using SPSS 14.0 for Windows. Qualitative data were entered into NVIVO 7 software for coding, and analysed using content analysis.
Results: Usable data were collected from 46 of the 86 contactable graduates (53%). More than half of the respondents (54%) reported being on a rural career path. A significant relationship exists between being on a rural career pathway and making the decision prior to or during medical school (p = 0.027), and between graduates in vocational training who are on an urban career path and making a decision on career specialty after graduation from medical school (p = .004). Graduates in a general practice vocational training program are more likely to be on a rural career pathway than graduates in a specialty other than general practice (p = .003). A key influence on graduates' practice location is geographic location prior to entering medical school. Key influences on graduates choosing a rural career pathway are: having a spouse/partner with a rural background; clinical teachers and mentors; the extended rural based undergraduate learning experience; and a specialty preference for general practice. A lack of rural based internships and specialist training places is influencing both urban- and rural-origin graduates to practise in urban locations. Further analysis of graduates' career pathway choices (rural or urban) and geographic background (rural or urban) was conducted. This resulted in the development of a new model, 'The Four Qs Model'. This model consists of four quadrants derived from the variables career pathway choice (rural or urban) and geographic background (rural or urban). Clustering of consistent demographic and qualitative trends unique to each quadrant was demonstrated. The distinctive clustering that emerged from the data resulted in the quadrants being renamed 'The True Believers', 'The Convertibles' 'The Frustrated' and 'The Metro Docs'.
Conclusions: The PRCC is influencing graduates to choose a rural career path. The PRCC program affirms the career preferences of rural origin students while graduates with little rural exposure prior to the PRCC report being positively influenced to pursue a rural career path. The Four Qs Model is a useful model in that it demonstrates consistent themes in the characteristics of PRCC graduates and assists understanding of why they choose a rural medical career. This could be relevant to the selection of medical students into rural medical education programs and in the construction of rural curricula. The model also offers a useful framework for further research in this field.