Background: The aim of this paper is to describe UK-trained doctors' early intentions about seeking careers in public health and their eventual speciality destinations.
Methods: Analysis of longitudinal studies of medical graduates from all UK medical schools in selected year-of-qualification cohorts from 1974 to 2008; data collected by postal questionnaires at various times after qualifying; and selection, for this paper, of doctors who expressed an early preference for a career in public health and/or who eventually practised in it.
Results: Of all doctors eventually practising in public health, for whom we had early choices, public health had been the unreserved first choice of 8% (10/125) in their first post-qualification year, 27% (33/122) in their third year and 59% (51/86) in their fifth year. Including first choices for public health 'tied' with an equal preference for a different speciality, and doctors' second and third choices for public health, 19% (24/125) of practising public health doctors had considered public health as a possible career in their first post-graduation year, 41% (50/122) in the third and 83% (71/86) in the fifth year.
Conclusions: Comparisons with other specialities show that doctors in public health chose their speciality relatively late after qualification.