Motivating Factors Influencing College Students' Choice of Academic Major

By Keshishian, Flora; Brocavich, Joseph M. et al. | American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, April 2010 | Go to article overview

Motivating Factors Influencing College Students' Choice of Academic Major


Keshishian, Flora, Brocavich, Joseph M., Boone, R. Thomas, Pal, Somnath, American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education


INTRODUCTION

Pharmacists are in high demand due in part to a persisting pharmacist shortage that is expected to worsen until 2020. (1,2) The situation coincides with changes in the profession as well as in the demographics of pharmacy students. In the last 3 decades, the number of female pharmacy students has increased dramatically as has the number of pharmacy students with diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds. Based on data from 102 (99%) colleges and schools of pharmacy in 2006-2007, of the total applications submitted to colleges of pharmacy, 59.2% were from female applicants; and 38% were from white Americans; 30.4%, Asian Americans; 13.6%, underrepresented groups (9.2% black, 4.0% Hispanic, 0.4% American Indian); and 4.6%, foreign/non-prominent residents. (3)

Beginning in the late 20th century, the profession's philosophy also evolved from product-centered to patient-oriented, placing more emphasis on patient-centered care by the pharmacist and therefore on communication in pharmacist-patient relationships. (4) Such relationships are built upon effective communication skills, including listening and questioning and having cultural competence and sensitivity, especially during patient counseling. (5) Considering the crucial role of the pharmacist in today's society, it is important for pharmacy programs to identify students' motivations for choosing pharmacy as their academic major.

A 1963 study of 385 first-year students in a 5-year pharmacy program found that the motivating influences for choosing pharmacy as a major included a desire to earn a high salary, an interest in chemistry, and a desire to help. (6) Another early survey comparing 1,569 health science majors (eg, dental hygiene, dentistry, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, and public health), including 422 freshmen and senior pharmacy students, found that the pharmacy students, regardless of age, were more likely than other students to choose the major for practical reasons, such as: expectation of economic security, expectation of advancement in position and social prestige, and opportunity to fulfill one's financial needs immediately. (7) Neither of these studies provided demographic information about the participants.

A study conducted about 25 years later of 250 pharmacy students found the top factors for choosing pharmacy were: desire a career in the health field, desire to help people, opportunity to earn a high salary, job security, and respected occupation. The top 5 individuals who influenced the students' decision in choosing the career were pharmacists, mother, father, other relatives, and personal friends. One hundred sixty-eight (67.2%) of the participants were female, and 68.8% were white; 17.2%, Hispanic; 6.9%, oriental; and 2.0%, black. Despite the inclusion of demographic information, the study did not analyze racial/ethnic background as a factor in the students' choice of the major. (8)

A study of 114 pharmacy and 112 nonpharmacy students to determine what influenced their selection of academic major found that career prestige, earning potential, flexibility of career, and availability of jobs were the factors that had greatest influence. (9)

In a study to identify factors that influenced first-year pharmacy students' decision to pursue a doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree respondents across all racial groups reported to have been influenced by a person with a similar racial background, including a family member, pharmacist or pharmacy student, college instructor/ advisor or high school counselor, or other healthcare professional. (10)

In a New Zealand study of 351 bachelor of pharmacy students (European, 39%; Chinese, 19%; Korean, 9%; Taiwanese, 7%; Malay, 6%; [Fijian] Indian, 6%; and Middle Eastern 5%) to determine students' motivations, attitudes, and intentions to study pharmacy, the top 4 motivations reported were caring for/helping people, interest in human biology, interacting with people, and receiving a high salary. …

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