Context: Little is known about the role of personality and related constructs in general practitioners' (GPs) choices of geographic location of medical practice. There is however some theory suggesting a role for personality in career decision making and some limited empirical evidence that this applies in medical career decisions.
Purpose: The aim of this study is to gain insight into whether personality plays a role in GPs' decisions to work in rural areas and the length of time that they intend to remain as a rural practitioner.
Method: Samples of rural (n = 372) and urban (n = 100) GPs from New South Wales (Australia) completed the Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness – Five Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI) and Adjective Checklist personality instruments and answered questions about demographics and rural upbringing.
Findings: Rural GPs scored, on average, more highly than urban GPs with respect to conscientiousness and agreeableness but lower on openness, which can also be taken to mean a more ‘down-to-earth’ personality. Personality together with age, gender, experience as a GP, time in current location and rural childhood yield an area under the receiver operating characteristic curve of 0.81 in discriminating rural from urban GPs. Among rural GPs openness (P = 0.007) was positively correlated with intended longevity as a rural doctor as was nurturing (P = 0.06).
Conclusions: Personality appears to play some role both in discriminating rural from urban GPs and in how long existing rural GPs intend to remain as rural GPs. Consideration of personality might assist in selection of individuals who will better fit the professional and social environment of rural life.