Background: Workforce planning is a central issue for service provision and has consequences for medical education. Much work has been examined the career intentions, career preferences and career destinations of UK medical graduates but there is little published about medical students career intentions. How soon do medical students formulate careers intentions? How much do these intentions and preferences change during medical school? If they do change, what are the determining factors? Our aim was to compare medical students' career preferences upon entry into and exit from undergraduate medical degree programmes.
Methods: This was a cross-sectional questionnaire survey. Two cohorts [2009-10, 2010-11] of first and final year medical students at the four Scottish graduating medical schools took part in career preference questionnaire surveys. Questions were asked about demographic factors, career preferences and influencing factors.
Results: The response rate was 80.9% [2682/3285]. Significant differences were found across the four schools, most obviously in terms of student origin [Scotland, rest of UK or overseas], age group, and specialty preferences in Year 1 and Year 5. Year 1 and Year 5 students' specialty preferences also differed within each school and, while there were some common patterns, each medical school had a different profile of students' career preferences on exit. When the analysis was adjusted for demographic and job-related preferences, specialty preferences differed by gender, and wish for work-life balance and intellectual satisfaction.
Conclusions: This is the first multi-centre study exploring students' career preferences and preference influences upon entry into and exit from undergraduate medical degree programmes. We found various factors influenced career preference, confirming prior findings. What this study adds is that, while acknowledging student intake differs by medical school, medical school itself seems to influence career preference. Comparisons across medical school populations must therefore control for differences in input [the students] as well as context and process [the medical school] when looking at output [e.g., performance]. A robust, longitudinal study is required to explore how medical students' career preferences change as they progress through medical school and training to understand the influence of the learning environment on training choice and outcomes.