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Factors influencing specialty choice and the effect of recall bias on findings from Irish medical graduates: a cross-sectional, longitudinal study.

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posted on 16.12.2020, 17:45 by Frances M Cronin, Nicholas Clarke, Louise Hendrick, Ronan ConroyRonan Conroy, Ruairi BrughaRuairi Brugha

Background: Despite being a vital part of medical workforce planning and development, how medical students and graduates choose their career specialty is still not well understood. This study aimed to identify the factors medical graduates consider important influences in their choice of specialty after their first year of practice, and to test the validity of relying on respondent recall to measure changes in specialty choice.

Methods: The baseline survey was administered online to all final year students in Ireland's six medical schools. Those who consented to follow-up (n = 483) were surveyed 18 months later (June 2018), during the final month of first year of practice.

Results: The baseline survey had a 67% (n = 483) response rate. At the follow-up survey, (n = 232, 48% response rate) the top specialty choices were: Medicine, n = 54 (26%); Surgery, n = 34 (16%); General Practice, n = 28 (13%); Anaesthesia, n = 16 (8%) and Paediatrics, n = 14 (7%). Of the 49 respondents (28%) reporting a change of specialty since baseline, 13 (27%) selected the same specialty in both surveys; of the 121 (69%) reporting no change, 22 (18%) selected a different specialty at follow-up. Over 90% of respondents rated as 'important or 'very important': 'Own aptitude', 'Work-life balance' and 'What I really want to do'. Over 75% rated as 'not at all', or 'not very important' 'Current financial debt' and 'Inclinations before medical school'. When adjusted for sex and age, compared with Medicine, General Practice rated as more important: continuity of patient care (RRR 3.20 CI(1.59-6.41), p = 0.001); working hours/conditions (RRR 4.61 CI(1.03-20.60), p = 0.045) and a career that fit their domestic circumstances (RRR 3.19 CI(1.27-8.02), p = 0.014). Those choosing Surgery rated as less important: patient contact (RRR 0.56 CI(0.33-0.95), p = 0.033) and working hours/conditions (RRR 0.55 CI(0.31-0.96), p = 0.035).

Conclusions: The different demographic and motivational profiles by specialty choice are consistent with other studies suggesting a distinct profile for doctors intending to enter General Practice. In addition, our results suggest longitudinal study designs guard against recall bias and so provide more robust medical workforce models to inform and direct recruitment drives and interventions in future medical workforce planning.


Health Research Board (HRB) Grant No. HRA-2013-HSR-318.



The original article is available at www.biomedcentral.com

Published Citation

Cronin FM, Clarke N, Hendrick L, Conroy R, Brugha R. Factors influencing specialty choice and the effect of recall bias on findings from Irish medical graduates: a cross-sectional, longitudinal study. BMC Medical Education. 2020;20(1):485.

Publication Date

2 December 2020

PubMed ID



  • Data Science Centre
  • Public Health and Epidemiology

Research Area

  • Population Health and Health Services




  • Published Version (Version of Record)