BMJ Open 3:e002051 doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2012-002051
  • Medical education and training
    • Research

Specialty choice in times of economic crisis: a cross-sectional survey of Spanish medical students

  1. Patricia Barber2
  1. 1Department of Economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
  2. 2Departamento de Métodos Cuantitativos en Economía y Gestión, Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Las Palmas, Spain
  3. 3Facultad de Ciencias Económicas y Empresariales, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain
  1. Correspondence to Jeffrey E Harris; jeffrey{at}
  • Received 3 September 2012
  • Revised 8 January 2013
  • Accepted 17 January 2013
  • Published 12 February 2013


Objective To investigate the determinants of specialty choice among graduating medical students in Spain, a country that entered into a severe, ongoing economic crisis in 2008.

Setting Since 2008, the percentage of Spanish medical school graduates electing Family and Community Medicine (FCM) has experienced a reversal after more than a decade of decline.

Design A nationwide cross-sectional survey conducted online in April 2011.

Participants We invited all students in their final year before graduation from each of Spain's 27 public and private medical schools to participate.

Main outcome measures Respondents’ preferred specialty in relation to their perceptions of: (1) the probability of obtaining employment; (2) lifestyle and work hours; (3) recognition by patients; (4) prestige among colleagues; (5) opportunity for professional development; (6) annual remuneration and (7) the proportion of the physician's compensation from private practice.

Results 978 medical students (25% of the nationwide population of students in their final year) participated. Perceived job availability had the largest impact on specialty preference. Each 10% increment in the probability of obtaining employment increased the odds of preferring a specialty by 33.7% (95% CI 27.2% to 40.5%). Job availability was four times as important as compensation from private practice in determining specialty choice (95% CI 1.7 to 6.8). We observed considerable heterogeneity in the influence of lifestyle and work hours, with students who preferred such specialties as Cardiovascular Surgery and Obstetrics and Gynaecology valuing longer rather than shorter workdays.

Conclusions In the midst of an ongoing economic crisis, job availability has assumed critical importance as a determinant of specialty preference among Spanish medical students. In view of the shortage of practitioners of FCM, public policies that take advantage of the enhanced perceived job availability of FCM may help steer medical school graduates into this specialty.

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