PURPOSE: To determine whether medical students supervised by general internist attendings during the third-year medicine clerkship are more likely to choose primary care careers than students supervised by subspecialist attendings. METHODS: One hundred forty-four consecutive medical students rotating on the general medicine inpatient service during the 1993-1994 academic year were surveyed about their career choice and professional expectations, both at the beginning and end of the clerkship; an additional 50 students completed a post-clerkship survey only. The cohort of students was surveyed at graduation to determine stability of their career preferences. RESULTS: Both pre- and post-clerkship surveys were completed by 138 of 144 students (96%); post-clerkship surveys were completed by 181/194 (93%); and graduation surveys were completed by 137/188 (73%). Fifty-eight students (32%) designated primary care (general internal medicine, general pediatrics, or family practice) as their career choice post-clerkship; of these, 45 students (78%) also indicated a primary care career choice at graduation. Characteristics associated with choosing primary care post- clerkship were: low income expectation, desire to interact closely with patients, desire to contribute to society, low class rank, female gender, and high educational debt. Having a physician parent was negatively associated with choosing primary care. After controlling for important demographic, academic and attitudinal characteristics, increasing exposure to a general internist attending was associated with choosing primary care (OR = 5.1, comparing highest to lowest amount). Among students choosing primary care, exposure to a general internist attending was associated with choosing general internal medicine in a dose-dependent fashion (OR = 4.2, comparing highest to lowest amount). CONCLUSIONS: Although career choice is clearly related to personal characteristics such as socioeconomic background and humanistic qualities, a high degree of exposure to general internists during the medicine clerkship is associated with choosing primary care. Exposure of students interested in primary care to general internist attendings may also influence them to consider general internal medicine over family practice and pediatrics.
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