Stability and change in career choices of junior doctors: postal questionnaire surveys of the United Kingdom qualifiers of 1993.
Goldacre MJ., Lambert TW.
OBJECTIVE: To report on stability and change in career choices of doctors, between 1 and 3 years after qualification. DESIGN: Postal questionnaire surveys. SETTING: United Kingdom. SUBJECTS: All doctors who qualified in the United Kingdom in 1993. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Choices of eventual career expressed 1 and 3 years after qualifying. RESULTS: The overall pattern of career choices at year 3 differed a little from that at year 1. For example, choices for general practice increased from 26% to 29%, choices for medical specialties fell from 22% to 18%, and for surgical specialties they fell from 17% to 14%. However, because changes of choice between specialties tended to 'cancel out', the aggregated data masked much larger changes when considered at the level of individual doctors. Overall, 74% of respondents retained their year 1 career choice in year 3 (78% of men, 70% of women). Of doctors who chose a hospital specialty in year 1, 71% chose the same specialty in year 3, 18% had switched choice to another hospital specialty, and 9% had switched choice to general practice. The percentage who changed choice from hospital specialties to general practice between years 1 and 3 was lower in the 1993 cohort than in all previous cohorts. Of those whose year 1 choice of long-term career was general practice, 89% retained that choice in year 3 and 11% switched to other branches of medicine. Even by year 3, less than half of all respondents (and a smaller percentage of women than men) signified that their long-term choice of specialty was definite. In year 3, 78% of all respondents, and 79% of doctors from homes in the United Kingdom, intended definitely or probably to practise medicine in the United Kingdom for the foreseeable future, which represented little change from the figures in year 1. CONCLUSIONS: About a quarter of doctors change their career choice between years 1 and 3 after qualification, and less than half regard their choice in year 3 as definite. Flexibility is therefore needed, well beyond the first post-qualification year, to accommodate changes of choice. Where training opportunities in a hospital specialty are limited, doctors are now inclining, more than in the past, to switch to an alternative hospital specialty rather than to general practice.