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BMC Med Educ. 2018 Jan 17;18(1):16. doi: 10.1186/s12909-018-1123-4.

What motivates medical students to select medical studies: a systematic literature review.

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School of Public Health, PGIMER, Sector-12, Chandigarh, 160012, India.
Department of Health Services Research, Care and Public Health Research Institute, Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands.
Department of Organization Studies, School of Social and Behavioural Sciences, Tilburg University, Tilburg, the Netherlands.
School of Public Health, PGIMER, Sector-12, Chandigarh, 160012, India.



There is a significant shortage of health workers across and within countries. It is of utmost importance to determine the factors that motivate students to opt for medical studies. The objective of this study is to group and review all the studies that investigated the motivational factors that underpin students' selection of medical study in recent years.


The literature search was carried out by two researchers independently in PubMed, Google Scholar, Wiley and IndMED databases for articles published from year 2006 till 2016. A total of 38 combinations of MeSH words were used for search purpose. Studies related to medical students and interns have been included. The application of inclusion and exclusion criteria and PRISMA guidelines for reporting systematic review led to the final selection of 24 articles.


The majority of the studies (nā€‰=ā€‰16; 66.6%) were from high-income countries followed by an equal number from upper-middle and lower-middle income countries (nā€‰=ā€‰4,16.7%). None of the studies were from low-income countries. All of the studies were cross-sectional in nature. The main motivating factors that emerged were scientific (interest in science / medicine, social interest and academia, flexible work hours and work independence), societal (prestige, job security, financial security) and humanitarian (serving the poor and under priviledged) in high-, upper-middle and lower-middle income countries, respectively. The findings were comparable to Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory of motivation.


This systematic review identifies the motivational factors influencing students to join medical studies in different parts of the globe. These factors vary per country depending on the level of income. This study offers cues to policy makers and educators to formulate policy in order to tackle the shortage of health workers, i.e. medical doctors. However, more research is needed to translate health policy into concrete and effective measures.


Medical students; Motivation; Rural areas; Systematic review

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