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BACKGROUND: It is important to inform medical educators and workforce planners in Anaesthesia about early career choices for the specialty, factors that influence them and to elucidate how recent choices of men and women doctors relate to the overall historical trends in the specialty's popularity. METHODS: We analysed longitudinal data on career choice, based on self-completed questionnaires, from national year-of-qualification cohorts of UK-trained doctors from 1974 to 2012 surveyed one, three and 5 years post-qualification. Career destination data 10 years post-qualification were used for qualifiers between 1993 and 2002, to investigate the association between early choice and later destinations. RESULTS: In years 1, 3 and 5 post-qualification, respectively, 59.9% (37,385), 64.6% (31,473), and 67.2% (24,971) of contactable doctors responded. There was an overall increase, from the early to the later cohorts, in the percentage of medical graduates who wished to enter anaesthesia: for instance year 1 choices rose from 4.6 to 9.4%, comparing the 1974 and 2012 cohorts. Men were more likely than women to express an early preference for a career in anaesthesia: for example, at year 3 after qualification anaesthesia was the choice of 10.1% of men and 7.9% of women. There was a striking increase in the certainty with which women chose anaesthesia as their future career specialty in recent compared to earlier cohorts, not reflected in any trends observed in men choosing anaesthesia. Sixty percent of doctors who were anaesthetists, 10 years after qualifying, had specified anaesthesia as their preferred specialty when surveyed in year 1, 80% in year 3, and 92% in year 5. Doctors working as anaesthetists were less likely than those working in other hospital specialties to have specified, as strong influences on specialty choice, 'experience of the subject' as students, 'inclinations before medical school', and 'what I really want to do'. Men anaesthetists were more influenced in their specialty choice than men in other hospital specialties by 'wanting a career with acceptable hours'; the corresponding difference among women was not significant. CONCLUSIONS: We suggest a focus on inspirational teaching of anaesthesia in medical school and on greater exposure to the specialty in the foundation programme. Factors which may discourage women from entering anaesthesia should be explored and addressed.

Original publication




Journal article


BMC Anesthesiol

Publication Date





Anaesthesia, Career choice, Factors, Gender differences, Workforce, Anesthetists, Attitude of Health Personnel, Career Choice, Female, Humans, Longitudinal Studies, Male, Physicians, Sex Factors, United Kingdom