Introduction: Due to the lack of a theoretically embedded overview of the recent literature on medical career decision-making, this study provides an outline of these dynamics. Since differences in educational routes to the medical degree likely affect career choice dynamics, this study focuses on medical career decision-making in educational systems with a Western European curriculum structure.
Methods: A systematic search of electronic databases (Medline, Embase) was conducted from January 2008 to November 2014. A panel of seven independent reviewers performed the data extraction, quality assessment and data synthesis using the Bland-Meurer model of medical specialty choice as a reference.
Results: Fifty-seven studies met the inclusion criteria for the review. Factors associated with specialty preference or career choice can be classified in five main categories: (1) medical school characteristics (e.g., curriculum structure), (2) student characteristics (e.g., age, personality), (3) student values (e.g., personal preference), (4) career needs to be satisfied (e.g., expected income, status, and work-life balance), and (5) perception of specialty characteristics (e.g., extracurricular or curricular experiences). Especially career needs and perceptions of specialty characteristics are often associated with medical career decision-making.
Conclusion: Our results support that medical career decisions are formed by a matching of perceptions of specialty characteristics with personal needs. However, the process of medical career decision-making is not yet fully understood. Besides identifying possible predictors, future research should focus on detecting interrelations between hypothesized predictors and identify the determinants and interrelations at the various stages of the medical career decision-making process.