A Qualitative Study of the Influences on Clinical Academic Physicians’ Postdoctoral Career Decision-Making

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To describe the influences on clinical academic physicians’ postdoctoral career decision-making.


Thirty-five doctoral trainee physicians from University College London took part in semi-structured interviews in 2015 and 2016. Participants were asked open-ended questions about their career to-date, their experiences undertaking a PhD, and their career plans post-PhD. The interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed. Thematic analysis was used to generate, review, and define themes from the transcripts. Emerging differences and similarities in participants’ reasons for pursuing a PhD were then grouped to produce typologies to explore how their experiences influenced their career decision-making.


Participants described four key reasons for undertaking a PhD, which formed the basis of the four typologies identified. These reasons included: to pursue a clinical academic career; to complete an extensive period of research to understand whether a clinical academic career was the desired path forward; to improve clinical career prospects; and to take a break from clinical training.


These findings highlight the need to target efforts at retaining clinical academic physicians according to their reasons for pursuing a PhD and their subsequent experiences with the process. Those responsible for overseeing clinical training must be well-informed of the long-term benefits of training academically-qualified physicians. In light of current political uncertainty, universities, hospitals, and external agencies alike must increase their efforts to inspire and assuage early-career clinical academic physicians’ fears regarding their academic future.

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