Intended for healthcare professionals


General practice has become less attractive as a career choice, researchers find

BMJ 2017; 357 doi: (Published 30 May 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;357:j2627
  1. Matthew Limb
  1. BMJ Careers
  1. limb{at}

General practice has become far less attractive as a career option since the 1990s, an analysis of survey responses from 9000 doctors has found.

Making general practice more appealing to current generations of doctors is of “paramount” importance to efforts to increase GP numbers, the UK Medical Careers Research Group said.

Between 1999 and 2015, the group, based at Oxford University, surveyed 9161 doctors three years after graduation, as they were choosing a future specialty career. A report on the findings was published in the British Journal of General Practice.1

The researchers found that, in 1999, 59% of doctors agreed with the statement, “General practice is more attractive than hospital practice for doctors at present.” By 2005, this had risen to 77%. But in 2015, only 36% of respondents agreed with the statement.

Doctors whose specialty choice was general practice were much more likely to agree with the statement (80%) than doctors who chose a hospital specialty (51%). Both groups experienced a “substantial decline in agreement [with the statement] between 2005 and 2015,” the researchers said. They added that the attractiveness of general practice may not necessarily have declined “in absolute terms,” rather that the appeal of hospital practice may have risen more over time.

The study also analysed how doctors rated the influence of 12 factors on their career choice. These included their enthusiasm, domestic circumstances, working conditions, and financial prospects.

In 2015, 55% of those intending to be GPs rated enthusiasm for, and commitment to, the specialty as very important, up from 49% in 1999. The corresponding figures for intending hospital doctors were 91% in 2015, up from 61% in 1999.

Over the 16 year period, wanting a job with acceptable hours and working conditions “retained a huge level of importance” to those who chose general practice. But this was less important among doctors who chose hospital practice and declined over the same period.

The authors said, “The attractiveness of general practice to current medical graduates is undoubtedly affected by their beliefs about GPs’ work-life balance and their exposure to general practice in their training. GP choosers highly value hours and working conditions. This is clearly a key area in which to motivate doctors to choose general practice.” They said that any policies to reduce GPs’ ability to manage their work, or that adversely affect their work-life balance, “may well have detrimental effects on recruitment.”


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