10 October 2023

What role do physicians' preferences and beliefs play in their career choices?


Equal access to qualified healthcare requires recruitment and retainment of specialists across geographic areas and medical specialties, as well as retainment of talent in medical research. A new research project funded by Independent Research Fund Denmark will investigate how physicians' preferences and preconceptions of career conditions influence their career and family choices.

Doctor checking child with stetoscope. Foto: Unsplash
Photo: Bermix Studio (Unsplash)

At a time when the demand for physicians' expertise is increasing, the healthcare sector worldwide is challenged by unequal access to qualified medical care. Denmark is also challenged, as recruitment and retention of specialized physicians is easier around university cities. And within the medical profession, there is unequal access to research careers.

A new research project, 'The Role of Preferences and Beliefs in Shaping Physician Careers', aims to identify the roles of individual preferences and beliefs, which could evolve over the career and determine geographical inequality in access to medical care, as well as barriers for physicians with different characteristics to pursue a research career.

"The sequence of career choices determines the future supply of qualified medical care - and thus citizens' access to qualified medical care," points out Torben Heien Nielsen, Associate Professor at the Department of Economics at the University of Copenhagen.

Together with Frederik Plesner Lyngse, Assistant Professor at the Department of Public Health, he is behind the project, which Independent Research Fund Denmark has chosen to support with DKK 6.2 million.

A lack of female researchers

The project's hypothesis is that physicians' individual preferences, circumstances and beliefs are crucial for their career ambitions, their realized career and family formation choices – and ultimately for the treatment of patients across gender and socio-economic backgrounds.

The researchers also study the impact of gender roles on physicians' career choices.

"Even though men and women formally have the same opportunities at the onset of their careers, there is a clear gender divergence in the choices made as life as a physician unfolds," explains Torben Heien Nielsen.

The circumstances of younger physicians not only affect their choice of specialty and geographical location, but also if they continue into medical research career. In some areas, women are particularly under-represented.

"A lack of women in research affects the research questions that are asked and ultimately the invention of new treatment methods," says Torben Heien Nielsen.

No stone must be left unturned

In the project, the researchers collaborate with the most important players in the labor market for physicians: the Danish Health Authority, the Regional Councils for Medical Education, the Danish Medical Association, Danish Junior Doctors Association, Danish Association of Medical Specialists and the Organisation of General Practitioners in Denmark.

"No stone must be left unturned – and the project must be carried out by independent researchers. We are an independent research collaboration between the social sciences and the health sciences. So we feel well equipped to deliver research to the frontiers," concludes Torben Heien Nielsen.

The project is supported by the Center of Excellence Center for Economic Behavior and Inequality (CEBI).


Torben Heien Nielsen
Associate Professor
Department of Economics
Mail: thn@econ.ku.dk 
Phone: + 45 35 32 30 25

Simon Knokgaard Halskov
Press and communications officer
Faculty of Social Sciences
Mail: sih@samf.ku.dk  
Phone: +45 93 56 53 29


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