Background: As most countries, Switzerland is experiencing a shortage of physicians especially in general practice and new medical education tracks with respective focusses have been started in response. This study investigated Swiss medical students' career openness and attractiveness of different medical disciplines as well as the concordance of students' career intentions with assigned medical education tracks.
Methods: Cross-sectional study surveying first year medical students assigned to four different Swiss medical education tracks with distinctive additional education focuses (ETH Zurich: medical technology and engineering, University of St. Gallen and University of Lucerne: primary healthcare and University of Zurich: no distinctive focus).
Results: We surveyed 354 medical students (response rate across all included medical education tracks 71.1%), 64.8% female, mean age 20 years. Regarding career openness, we found that 52.8% of medical students had neither a strong commitment nor a strong reservation for any of the proposed career options and 17.0% had a strong commitment. Among medical disciplines, medical subspecialties were attractive to the largest part of students (inpatient subspecialties attractive for 71%, outpatient for 58%), attractiveness of general practice was moderate (30%), academic (22%) and industrial sector (17%) careers were least attractive. Proportions of medical students attracted to general practice were similar at medical education tracks with focus on primary healthcare compared to other medical education tracks (32.2% vs. 25.8%, p = 0.391). Conversely, proportions of medical students attracted to academic or industry careers were significantly higher at the ETH Zurich compared to other medical education tracks (37.2%, vs. 13.1%, p < 0.001 and 31.9%, vs. 8.8%, p < 0.001 respectively).
Conclusion: While most first-year medical students were open to careers in many medical disciplines, attractiveness of disciplines varied strongly. Students attracted to academic or industrial careers accumulated at the medical education track with concordant teaching focus but students attracted to general practice did not accumulate at medical education tracks focused on primary healthcare. For medical education tracks with primary care teaching focus this is both a challenge and an opportunity to specifically counteract the shortage of general practitioners in Switzerland.
Keywords: Career choice; Medical disciplines; Medical school; Medical students.