Med school influences career choices

  • Date: 26 August 2014

TRAINEE doctors’ career choices can be influenced by which medical school they attend, new research suggests.

First year students at Dundee and Glasgow were more likely to choose a career in emergency medicine compared to their counterparts in Aberdeen who preferred general practice. Meanwhile, final year students at Aberdeen were more likely to select general practice as a top three choice than Edinburgh students but less likely to opt for anaesthesia compared to Dundee final years.

A team of researchers from the University of Aberdeen asked two cohorts of first and final year medical students at Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow medical schools about their career preferences. Responses were submitted by 2,682 trainees – a response rate of 81 per cent.

They noticed some patterns in career choices at each school, but said the reasons for this were not clear.

The report stated: “While changes in careers preferences between year 1 and year 5 students are possibly due, at least to some extent, to experiences in teaching and when on rotation, we cannot identify the specific influences which maintain or change early career preferences.”

A key factor influencing career choice was gender. Male students in both their first and final years were more likely to choose surgery than women but less likely to opt for general practice, obstetrics and gynaecology or paediatrics. “In year 5, male students were also more likely to select emergency medicine as a top three choice than female students,” the researchers added.

Work-life balance was also found to be increasingly important for trainees. The report noted that old fashioned values about workload and shift patterns may still be influencing attitudes towards certain specialties.

“It may be that today’s students are basing their perceptions of surgery on the messages from role models from another generation, one raised with different expectations of medical school and practising medicine, and who are likely to be male [compared with the majority of medical students],” they said.

Evidence suggested some students had misconceptions about general practice, with many apparently believing it to be less intellectually satisfying than other specialties. Researchers noted that year one and year five students who valued work-life balance more than intellectual satisfaction were more likely to choose general practice as a top three choice.

In final years, the desire for work-life balance was also associated with a preference for anaesthesia while those who didn’t value work-life balance were more likely to select surgery as a top three choice.

Researchers concluded that “robust, longitudinal study is required to explore how medical students’ career preferences change as they progress through medical school and training to understand the influence of the learning environment on training choice and outcomes.”

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