An individual’s career choice is a critical long-term decision that can have a direct impact on their future, well-being and role in society. Processes leading to career choice have been described on the basis of individual differences in abilities and personality, in addition to socio-structural conditions, with emphasis on social class and opportunity structures. [21].

Motivating factors for aspiring dentists have been studied over the years [1,2,3, 6, 7, 22,23,24,25,26,27,28] and the purpose of this study was to explore the perceived motivation of undergraduate dental students for their career choice in Qatar, to shed additional light and generate deeper understanding. Although survey-based studies examining the motivation of university dental students towards career choice have already been conducted; this study used qualitative methods to better understand the decision-making processes guiding the career choices of dental students. Qualitative research, primarily in the form of interviews and focus groups, is increasingly used and considered a common method of data collection in the dental field. [13] and provide a better understanding of participants’ beliefs and perspectives [14].

Overall, the results of this study highlighted a range of opinions related to individual motivations for pursuing a career in dentistry. It can be observed from the gender distribution of the participating cohorts that the majority of students were female. This is dictated by the growing number of female applicants to study dentistry in Qatar; a phenomenon that takes place all over the world [15, 29,30,31]. The gender balance in the dental profession has changed significantly over the past two decades. In Europe, for example, women accounted for more than 60% of all practicing dentists in 2016, with almost four out of five dentists in Finland, Russia, Latvia and Lithuania being women. [29, 32]. The high percentage of women in this study is comparable to other [26, 33, 34].

Self-motivation has proven to be a key motivation for a career in dentistry in Germany and Finland [7]. In this study, equivalent motives emerged, however, family influence, of parents or family members who are dentists, was also a frequently reported theme. The impact on the family and their young adults’ desire to enter a dental profession has also been reported elsewhere. [23, 24]. In a survey of two dental school applicants in the United Kingdom (UK), over 45% of applicants reported parents who were dentists or doctors [25]. A previous study showed that in addition to different motivators to opt for dentistry, parental education level influenced students’ motivation to choose their field of study. [3]. This factor was less notable among the participants in this study.

The acquisition of practical skills was also highlighted as a reason influencing the career choice of students. Clinically, to perform dental procedures, a dentist must be able to work with precision on an extremely small scale. In addition, superior hand-eye coordination is essential to ensure patient safety and the integrity of the profession. [35]. This study highlighted a strong link, as perceived by students, between art, manual dexterity and the profession of dentistry. These results corroborate the results of a previous study which found a significant correlation between the various tests, the written questions and the drawing test. In addition, the best students in dental practical work during the second year of study were found to be those who were the best in both the drawing test and the examination of “medical concepts”, including the latter was the only test requiring thought. [36]. Conversely, Giuliani et al. reported that basic manual dexterity is not essential in the selection of dental students. Students who were able to take the training significantly improved their manual ability [37].

Medicine and dentistry are intimately linked, however, at the undergraduate level, medical students must learn basic practical skills, such as performing electrocardiography (ECG), administering intravenous (IV) and intramuscular injections (IM), suturing of superficial wounds and bladder catheterization. [38]. In comparison, dental students need to acquire fine manual dexterity early in their undergraduate studies, in a confined space; namely the oral cavity [39]. Engineering, on the other hand, can require practical skills, depending on the different disciplines (mechanical, chemical, civil, and electrical engineering, to name a few). Nevertheless, they do not require communicating and interacting with patients. Interestingly, the students in this study viewed the dental profession as the best of both worlds, combining both medicine and engineering, thus integrating practical skills and patient care.

The interest of the currently explored “Gen Z” in practical tasks could also stem from the fact that they are a “digital” generation. Using computers, texting on their phones with other people, and playing video games are all activities that have been shown to improve manual dexterity. [40]. Evidence has established that previous video game and smartphone experiences may positively impact hand-eye coordination and visuospatial skills [41, 42]. Therefore, it is important to recognize that the current generation may have very different skills and expectations than previous generations. Research indicates that this variation in expectations has implications for health professions and the performance of health systems. [15, 43, 44].

Childhood aspiration and general interest in dentistry was reported across the study cohort as a common theme behind the individual’s career choice. Interestingly, previous evidence has indicated that professions are chosen at an early age, especially in the context of a scientific career compared to other career orientations. [21, 45].

Dentistry, as a highly respected profession with social status and a prestigious career, was also reported in the study cohort as a reason for an individual’s career choice. Consistent with previous questionnaire-based studies, an occupational job-related factor was evident [27, 33, 34]. Statistics predict that the overall employment of dentists will increase by 7% from 2018 to 2028, faster than average, and that their demand will increase as the population ages and research continues to link systemic health to oral health. -dental. [46]. According US News and World ReportAccording to the annual “Top 100 Jobs List”, dentists and orthodontists are frequently named two of the best jobs. [47]. Flexible working hours, financial gain and job security are closely related to occupational job-related factors [2]. Previous studies based on surveys in countries such as the UK, India, USA, Iran, South Africa, Australia and Syria have highlighted the financial situation and safety as two of the main reasons for choosing a dental career. [7, 26, 27, 33]. However, these aspects were not reported by the participants in this study. This can be attributed to the fact that Qatar’s economy is one of the richest in the world based on GDP per capita, generally ranking among the top 10 richest countries in the world. [48]. Qatari nationals, who make up 70% of the current 2nd and 3rd year cohort, come from wealthy backgrounds. It is therefore not surprising that financial considerations do not appear to be a predominant determinant of the choice of dentistry as a career for participants. This is similar to non-Qatari residency with high income. On the contrary, tuition fees may deter students from applying for dentistry in other countries. [2, 6, 27, 33, 49, 50].

Altruism is a term referring to the practice of selfless interest and devotion to others; simply put, the desire to help and take action to promote someone else’s well-being [51]. The motive most often relayed by the students (55%) in this study was altruism. This is not surprising since dentistry is a science of healing [52]. This is similar to the results of other studies conducted in Sweden, Japan, Jordan, Iran and Australia. [23, 34, 53, 54] where dental students are motivated to help people and promote better oral health.

The possibility of going back on your initial choice and the possibility of moving from one college to another is an advantage. Within the participating cohort, a transfer coming specifically from the faculties of medicine or pharmacy was recorded. Despite the scientific nature of the aforementioned colleges, the dental career path has been favored and reconsidered due to the practical nature and close interaction with patients within the dental profession. On the contrary, previous surveys have indicated that dental college was the second most preferred choice, with medicine ranked first, among participating dental students. [25]. Although previous studies report flexible and appropriate work schedules as an advantage in the dental profession over the medical profession [7]none of the current participating students have reported this.

The main strength of this study is that all current undergraduate dental students participated in this qualitative research conducted via face-to-face focus group sessions. To further strengthen the methodological aspect, each session was conducted with the presence of two researchers; a moderator and an observer. Moreover, no previous studies of this nature have been reviewed in the State of Qatar. However, this study only included the views of a single dental school and the small number of currently enrolled undergraduate students are recognized limitations, limiting the generalizability of the study findings.

Strengths and limitations

This is the first national study in Qatar exploring the motivations of dental students for their career choice. The results provide baseline data to inform the admissions process.

A range of opinions on the ideal size of focus groups have been reported in the literature, ranging from 4 to 12 participants to give diversity in the information provided and allow for in-depth exploration. [19, 55, 56]. Consistent with contemporary guidelines for qualitative research, focus group sizes in this research ranged from 4 to 9 participants. The focus groups gave participants the opportunity to listen to the views and experiences of their peers to reflect on themselves. On the other hand, the desirability bias among students to share their views and experiences in the presence of their peers may have influenced their participation.

The main limitation of the study is that we did not explore the influence of demographic factors, particularly gender, on the choice of dentistry as a career. Future research could follow participants longitudinally to assess any correlation between motivation and academic performance.