Working in preventive medicine or not? Flawed perceptions decrease chance of retaining students for the profession

Van Anh Thi Nguyen, Karen D. Könings, E. Pamela Wright, Hoat Ngoc Luu, Albert J.J.A. Scherpbier, Jeroen J.G. Van Merriënboer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
6 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Recruiting and retaining students in preventive medical (PM) specialties has never been easy; one main challenge is how to select appropriate students with proper motivation. Understanding how students perceive PM practice differently from practicing doctors is necessary to guide students, especially for those for whom PM is only a substitute for medicine as their first study preference, properly during their study and, later, the practice of PM. Methods: One thousand three hundred eighty-six PM students in four Vietnamese medical schools and 101 PM doctors filled out a questionnaire about the relevance of 44 characteristics of working in PM. ANOVAs were conducted to define the relationship between students' interest, year of study, willingness to work in PM, and the degree to which students had realistic perceptions of PM practice, compared to doctors' perceptions. Results: Overall, compared to doctors' perceptions, students overestimated the importance of most of the investigated PM practice's characteristics. Moreover, students' perception related to their preference and willing to pursue a career in PM after graduation. In particular, students for whom PM was their first choice had more realistic perceptions of community practice than those who chose PM as their second choice. And, second-choice students had more realistic perceptions than first-choice students in their final years of study, but expected higher work stress in PM practice. Students who were willing to pursue a career in PM rated the importance of community practice higher than those who were not. We also found that students' perception changed during training as senior students had more realistic perceptions of clinical aspects and working stress than junior students, even though they overemphasized the importance of the community aspects of PM practice. Conclusions: To increase the number of students actually entering the PM field after graduation, the flawed perceptions of students about the real working environment of PM doctors should be addressed through vocation-oriented activities in the curriculum targeted on groups of students who are most likely to have unrealistic perceptions. Our findings also have implications for other less attractive primary health care specialties that experience problems with recruiting and retaining students.

Original languageEnglish
Article number31
Number of pages9
JournalHuman Resources for Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 15 May 2019


  • Career choice
  • Characteristics of specialty
  • First-choice students
  • Preventive medicine
  • Student motivation
  • Student perception

Cite this