Background: Recruitment and retention of dentists in the public sector and rural areas in Victoria has become increasingly difficult in recent years. There are little available data on the factors that influence the sector and location of practice of new dental graduates. The objective of this study was to investigate the factors considered by new graduates in determining the location and sector of employment after graduation, and influencing any early changes in career path.
Methods: Questionnaires were sent to dentists who graduated from The University of Melbourne from 2000–2003 who were currently practising in Victoria. There were 154 subjects to whom questionnaires were sent and 109 useable questionnaires were returned, a response rate of 74 per cent.
Results: Upon graduation, 53 per cent of the new graduates chose to work in the private sector only, compared to 15 per cent in public sector only and 33 per cent in both. At present, 71 per cent work in the private sector only, 17 per cent in the public sector only and 12 per cent in both. The most important factors for choosing to work in the private sector were receiving broad range of clinical experience, opportunities to familiarize with practice management and providing a continuity of care. The principal factors for practising in the public sector were clinical mentoring and advice, consolidating clinical skills and work environment. Initially, 48 per cent of the sample chose to work in metropolitan areas only, 39 per cent in rural areas only and 13 per cent in both. Factors that influenced the decision to work in rural areas were the broad range of clinical experience and remuneration, while the main factors for choosing to work in metropolitan areas were lifestyle and proximity to family and friends.
Conclusions: This study found that a large proportion of new dental graduates initially chose to work in the public sector and rural areas on graduation primarily as a means of consolidating their clinical skills. However, retention of dentists in both these areas appears to be a problem, with less than 10 per cent of 2000–2001 graduates still working in the public sector and only 20 per cent of 2000–2001 graduates still working in rural areas.