Background: Against the background of the recruitment crisis in general practice, we aimed to determine what United Kingdom (UK) medical students value in their future careers, how they perceive careers in general practice (GP) and what influences them.
Methods: Cross-sectional survey of 280 final and penultimate year medical students at the University of Oxford, with questions relating to career choices, factors of importance when choosing a career and attitudes towards general practice as a career. Quantitative methods included cluster analysis, chi squared tests of independence and logistic regression analysis. Qualitative data were analysed thematically using the Framework method.
Results: Response rate was 89% (280/315). 40% of participants said that general practice was an attractive or very attractive career option. Respondents valued job satisfaction, work-life balance and close relationships with patients. However, fewer than 20% of respondents agreed that community-based working was important to them and many (often citing particular GPs they had observed) felt that general practice as currently structured may not be satisfying or fulfilling because of high workload, financial pressures and externally imposed directives. 63% perceived GPs to have lower status than hospital specialties and 49% thought the overall culture of their medical school had negatively influenced their views towards general practice. Some respondents considered that general practice would not be intellectually challenging or compatible with a research career; some appeared to have had limited exposure to academic primary care.
Conclusions: With the caveat that this was a sample from a single medical school, medical students may be put off careers in general practice by three main things: low perceived value of community-based working and low status of general practice (linked to a prevailing medical school culture); observing the pressures under which GPs currently work; and lack of exposure to academic role models and primary care-based research opportunities. To improve recruitment of the next generation of GPs, medical schools must provide high quality placements in general practice, expose students to academic role models and highlight to policymakers the links between the current pressures in UK general practice and the recruitment crisis.
Keywords: Attitude; Career choice; Family practice; General practice; General practitioners; Medical schools; Medical students; Physician shortage; Primary health care; Surveys and questionnaires.