Introduction: General practice is under-represented in student career choices. This study aimed to identify and explore factors that influence the attitudes of final year medical students to general practice as a career.
Methods: This qualitative study used semi-structured interviews of focus groups of final year undergraduate medical students at the University of Otago, Christchurch, New Zealand. Thematic analysis and grounded theory were used to interpret the data.
Findings: General practitioners (GPs) play a key role in influencing medical students' attitudes to general practice as a career. Students identified their general practice placement during medical school training and personal contact with their own GP as principal factors. The media portrayal of general practice and the attitudes of friends and family were also influential. Students were positively influenced when they were made to feel part of the team, involved with consultations, allowed to carry out practical procedures under supervision, and witnessed what they perceived as good medical practice during clinical placements. Positive experiences often occurred later in training, when students felt more confident of their clinical abilities. While students reported occasional negative comments about general practice by some hospital doctors, these had a lesser role in influencing their perceptions of general practice compared with their own experiences, both as students and patients.
Conclusion: GPs have a strong influence, positively and negatively, on the attitudes of medical students to general practice as a career. Effective influences include being made to feel welcome, involved, valued, and given legitimate roles during clinical placements.