Objectives: To report doctors' rejection of specialties as long-term careers and reasons for rejection.
Design: Postal questionnaires.
Setting: United Kingdom.
Participants: Graduates of 2002, 2005 and 2008 from all UK medical schools, surveyed one year after qualification.
Main outcome measures: Current specialty choice; any choice that had been seriously considered but not pursued (termed 'rejected' choices) with reasons for rejection.
Results: 2573 of 9155 respondents (28%) had seriously considered but then not pursued a specialty choice. By comparison with positive choices, general practice was under-represented among rejected choices: it was the actual choice of 27% of respondents and the rejected choice of only 6% of those who had rejected a specialty. Consideration of 'job content' was important in not pursuing general practice (cited by 78% of those who considered but rejected a career in general practice), psychiatry (72%), radiology (69%) and pathology (68%). The surgical specialties were the current choice of 20% of respondents and had been considered but rejected by 32% of doctors who rejected a specialty. Issues of work-life balance were the single most common factor, particularly for women, in not pursuing the surgical specialties, emergency medicine, the medical hospital specialties, paediatrics, and obstetrics and gynaecology. Competition for posts, difficult examinations, stressful working conditions, and poor training were mentioned but were mainly minority concerns.
Conclusions: There is considerable diversity between doctors in their reasons for finding specialties attractive or unattractive. This underlines the importance of recruitment strategies to medical school that recognize diversity of students' interests and aptitudes.