Background: In Germany, there is a shortage of young physicians in several specialties, the situation of general practitioners (GP) being especially precarious. The factors influencing the career choice of German medical students are poorly understood. This study aims to identify factors influencing medical students' specialty choice laying a special focus on general practice.
Methods: The study was designed as a cross-sectional survey. In 2010, students at the five medical schools in the federal state of Baden-Wuerttemberg (Germany) filled out an online-questionnaire. On 27 items with 5-point Likert scales, the students rated the importance of specified individual and occupational aspects. Furthermore, students were asked to assign their intended medical specialty.
Results: 1,299 students participated in the survey. Thereof, 1,114 students stated a current choice for a specialty, with 708 students choosing a career in one of the following 6 specialties: internal medicine, surgery, gynaecology and obstetrics, paediatrics, anaesthetics and general practice. Overall, individual aspects ('Personal ambition', 'Future perspective', 'Work-life balance') were rated as more important than occupational aspects (i.e. 'Variety in job', 'Job-related ambition') for career choice. For students favouring a career as a GP individual aspects and the factor 'Patient orientation' among the occupational aspects were significantly more important and 'Job-related ambition' less important compared to students with other specialty choices.
Conclusions: This study confirms that future GPs differ from students intending to choose other specialties particularly in terms of patient-orientation and individual aspects such as personal ambition, future perspective and work-life balance. Improving job-conditions in terms of family compatibility and work-life balance could help to increase the attractiveness of general practice. Due to the shortage of GPs those factors should be made explicit at an early stage at medical school to increase the number of aspirants for general practice.