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In the past 10 years there has been increasing concern about recruitment of junior doctors into pathology, particularly histopathology, in the UK. In this study, we report on career choices for pathology, derived from postal questionnaire surveys of all qualifiers from all UK medical schools in nine qualification years since 1974. 74% (24 623/33 417) and 73% (20 709/28 468) of doctors responded at 1 and 3 years after qualification. The percentage of doctors choosing pathology 1 year after qualification has fallen sharply in recent years: between 1974 and 1983 it was 4.5% (95% confidence interval 4.1–4.9%) and between 1993 and 2002 it was 2.3% (CI 2.0–2.5%). 57% of doctors who chose pathology 1 year after qualification were still working in pathology at year 10. Hours and conditions of work, the doctor's personal assessment of their aptitudes, and their experience of the subject as a student influenced long-term career choices for pathology. Recruitment of UK graduates into the pathology specialties must increase to meet demand in the new and expanding subspecialties. This depends on developing innovative ways of raising the profile of pathology to medical students and junior hospital doctors. Copyright © 2005 Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.