What Influences Career Choices Among Graduates of a Primary Care Training Program?

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To identify factors that influence primary care residents to become generalists or specialists.


Structured survey and interview.


A large university-based, internal medicine residency program in primary care.


Of 92 residency graduates who completed training between 1979 and 1993, 88(96%) participated.


Although 82% of the participating graduates reported themselves very committed to primary care at the beginning of residency, only 68% pursued generalist careers. Factors influencing career choice that were more important to generalists than specialists included breadth of knowledge used in primary care practice (p = .04), breadth of clinical problems in practice (p = .001), and opportunity for continuity of care(p = .01). Although salary was rated "not important," 50% of generalists and specialists advocated increased salaries for generalists as a way to increase interest in primary care. Other promoting factors included mentors, increased prestige for generalists, community-based training, lifestyle changes, and decreased paperwork. Seventy-three percent of participants felt it was easier to be a specialist than a generalist.


A substantial minority of primary care residents pursue specialty careers. To produce more generalists, graduates recommend addressing income inequities, providing generalist role models, increasing community-based teaching, and increasing prestige for generalists.

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