The Open Public Health Journal

ISSN: 1874-9445 ― Volume 12, 2019

What Motivated Students to Choose a Career in Health Sciences? A Comparison of Rural and Urban-Origin Students in Three South African Universities

L.H. Mabuza*, B. Ntuli
Department of Family Medicine and Primary Health Care, Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, Pretoria, South Africa



Globally, there is a lower ratio of healthcare worker to population in rural compared to urban areas. Scholars are motivated by a number of factors to choose a career in health sciences. Determining these factors among rural and urban-origin students could inform recruitment and retention strategies to redress this imbalance.


To determine and compare motivating factors for a career in health sciences among Rural-Origin (ROS) and Urban-Origin Students (UOS) at three South African universities.


Three institutions (former University of Limpopo (Medunsa Campus), now Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University (SMU), University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and University of Cape Town (UCT) participated in the study 2011. Health science students completed a self-administered questionnaire. The SAS® (version 9.2) for Microsoft statistical software was used for analysis. Statistical significance was set at p ≤ 0.05.


A total of 1633 health sciences students participated in the study. Parents (505; 30.9%) and personal exposure (484; 29.6%) were the main motivating factors for both ROS and UOS, with significantly more UOS than ROS motivated by these factors (p < 0.001). The contribution of role models (93; 5.7%), friends (77; 4.7%), high school teachers (77; 4.7%), mentors (36; 2.2%) and university lecturers (18; 1.1%) was minimal, with no significant difference between UOS and ROS (p > 0.05).


There is need for the health care sector to support students’ families and encourage students’ personal exposure to health care facilities and personnel in order to motivate them towards a career in health sciences.

Keywords: Rural-origin students, Urban-origin students, Motivating factors, Career, Health sciences, South Africa.

Article Information

Identifiers and Pagination:

Year: 2018
Volume: 11
First Page: 44
Last Page: 53
Publisher Id: TOPHJ-11-44
DOI: 10.2174/1874944501811010044

Article History:

Received Date: 11/11/2017
Revision Received Date: 30/01/2018
Acceptance Date: 5/2/2018
Electronic publication date: 23/02/2018
Collection year: 2018

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© 2018 Mabuza and Ntuli.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Department of Family Medicine and Primary Health Care, Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, Pretoria, South Africa; Tel: 0833250580; Fax: 0125214172; E-mail:


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