Career choice of new medical students at three Canadian universities: family medicine versus specialty medicine

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Abstract

Background

Over the last 10 years the number of medical students choosing family medicine as a career has steadily declined. Studies have demonstrated that career preference at the time that students begin medical school may be significantly associated with their ultimate career choice. We sought to identify the career preferences students have at entry to medical school and the factors related to family medicine as a first-choice career option.

Methods

A questionnaire was administered to students entering medical school programs at the time of entry at the University of Calgary (programs beginning in 2001 and 2002), University of British Columbia (2001 and 2002) and University of Alberta (2002). Students were asked to indicate their top 3 career choices and to rank the importance of 25 variables with respect to their career choice. Factor analysis was performed on the variables. Reliability of the factor scores was estimated using Cronbach's alpha coefficients; biserial correlations between the factors and career choice were also calculated. A logistic regression was performed using career choice (family v. other) as the criterion variable and the factors plus demographic characteristics as predictor variables.

Results

Of 583 students, 519 (89%) completed the questionnaire. Only 20% of the respondents identified family medicine as their first career option, and about half ranked family medicine in their top 3 choices. Factor analysis produced 5 factors (medical lifestyle, societal orientation, prestige, hospital orientation and varied scope of practice) that explained 52% of the variance in responses. The 5 factors demonstrated acceptable internal consistency and correlated in the expected direction with the choice of family medicine. Logistic regression revealed that students who identified family medicine as their first choice tended to be older, to be concerned about medical lifestyle and to have lived in smaller communities at the time of completing high school; they were also less likely to be hospital oriented. Moreover, students who chose family medicine were much more likely to demonstrate a societal orientation and to desire a varied scope of practice.

Interpretation

Several factors appear to drive students toward family medicine, most notably having a societal orientation and a desire for a varied scope of practice. If the factors that influence medical students to choose family medicine can be identified accurately, then it may be possible to use such a model to change medical school admission policies so that the number of students choosing to enter family medicine can be increased.

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