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Objective: Using data from 40 years of national surveys of UK medical graduates, we report on ophthalmology as a career choice. Design setting and participants: Self-administered questionnaire surveys of all graduates from all UK medical schools in selected years of qualification between 1974 and 2015. Main outcome measures: Career specialty preferences of doctors one, three, and five years after graduation; career specialty destinations 10 years after graduation. Results: One year after graduation, ophthalmology was the first career preference of 1.6% of the qualifiers of 1974-83, 2.2% of 1993-2002, and 1.8% of 2005-15. The corresponding percentages three years after graduation were 1.5, 1.8, and 1.2%. Men were more likely than women to choose ophthalmology: among graduates of 2005-15, 2.4% of men and 1.4% of women did so at one year, as did 1.7% of men and 0.7% of women at five years. Seventy per cent of doctors practising as ophthalmologists 10 years after qualification had told us in their first post-qualification year that ophthalmology was their first choice of career. Conclusions: There has been no systematic change in recent years in the proportion of recent medical graduates intending to have a career in ophthalmology when surveyed one year after graduation. However, the proportion at three and five years after graduation was lower than that at year 1. Suggestions for maintaining interest in the specialty include improved career advice, greater early clinical exposure to ophthalmology, and improved access to flexible training. Most practising ophthalmologists had made early decisions that this was their intended career.

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Ophthalmology career, UK workforce, medical education, specialty choice