Why Choose Pharmacy? Motivation and Pursuant Factors in International and Domestic Students

By: Jungeun “Cindy” Lee, Student Pharmacist; Stephanie Yang, Student Pharmacist; Jenny Van Amburgh, PharmD, BCACP, CDE, FAPhA

Students are often asked by professors, peers, and healthcare professionals, “why did you pursue pharmacy?” and “what keeps you motivated to stay in pharmacy?” Is it because… they did well in math and science? …their academic advisor suggested it? …to help people? …to have a stable career? or, is it due to parental influence?

Learning more about pharmacy, or as the curriculum becomes more rigorous, students leave the program, whether by choice or due to academic difficulties. What are the possible motivational factors that help students enter and remain committed to pharmacy?

Our Project

A survey was distributed to 693 pre-year and P1-P4 student pharmacists. Questions included demographic and motivational factors to pursue and continue pharmacy (intrinsic and extrinsic reasons). Demographic questions included year in the program, their “domestic” (holding green card or a US citizen) vs. “international” (students without green card or US citizenship) status, their parents’ birthplace, etc. For motivational factors, students rated factors on a four-point Likert scale: 1 “did not contribute at all”, 2 “somewhat motivates me”, 3 “largely motivates me”, and 4 “mostly contributed”.1,2 For descriptive statistics, factors rated 3 and 4 on the scale were considered “high influencers”.

There were 247 completed responses (35.1%). Factors influencing students’ decisions to pursue and continue pharmacy were divided into three main categories: external extrinsic, internal extrinsic, and intrinsic with definitions adapted from Soria & Stebleton.3 External extrinsic is defined as motivational factors that come from an external source that students do not have control over (e.g. not being able to get into a first choice of major). Internal extrinsic is an external influence or reason that one may find important, (e.g. job security, future high paying job). Lastly, intrinsic factors are self-derived, personal reasons that come from within oneself (e.g. wanting to help others or interaction with patients).

Decisions to pursue and continue pharmacy are correlated to parents’ birthplace, not whether the student is domestic or international.

External extrinsic factors were a greater influence on pursuing and continuing pharmacy for students with neither parents born in the US compared to those with one or more parents born in the US. While all indicated that the internal intrinsic factors had the highest influence among three categories of motivational factors for pursuing and continuing pharmacy, the percentage difference between external extrinsic and internal intrinsic was highest in students with one or more parents born in the US. These results are consistent with the literature: internal intrinsic and internal extrinsic factors correlate positively with student satisfaction (Table 1).2

Table 1. Percentages of Students Rating Factors as High Influencers in Pursuing and Continuing Pharmacy


Domestic, one or both parents born in the US %(n=82)

Domestic, neither parent born in the US % (n=123)

International, neither parent born in the US % (n=42)

External Extrinsic
Could not get into medical/dental school

1% (1)

7% (9)

14% (6)

Parental desires

12% (10)

36% (44)

76% (32)

Prestige of career

65% (53)

66% (81)

88% (37)

Internal Extrinsic
Provides international opportunities

6% (5)

11% (13)

62% (26)

Provides doctoral degree

59% (48)

72% (89)

88% (37)

Provides doctoral degree in the shortest time frame

50% (41)

71% (87)

74% (31)

Future high paying job

78% (64)

82% (101)

86% (37)

Provides economic/job security

82% (67)

82% (101)

86% (37)

Wanted to help others

94% (77)

72% (89)

69% (29)

Interest in math/sciences

93% (76)

72% (89)

76% (32)

Interactions with patients

70% (57)

54% (67)

62% (26)


External Extrinsic


52% (43)

53% (78)

76% (32)

Too late to transfer

22% (18)

34% (42)

19% (8)

Internal Extrinsic

Thinking about the future

89% (73)

78% (96)

96% (36)

Job outlook

78% (64)

64% (79)

79% (33)

To pursue more degrees in the future

15% (12)

22% (27)

50% (21)


Want to help others

79% (65)

67% (82)

79% (33)

Now what?

It is common to see students face challenges and burnout while they go through the rigorous academic work. A role of pharmacy schools is to guide students to become successful pharmacists, which can only be fulfilled when students are motivated.

Schools can initiate efforts in understanding the student population by conducting a survey that gauges what motivates students to pursue and continue pharmacy. Collected data would allow schools to tailor resources and aid faculty/advisors in the guidance process. When situations arise where students reach out for help due to academic difficulties, a conversation about their motivational factors and pertinent background can help individualize support systems necessary to meet their needs.

While this survey was conducted at Northeastern University, we believe learning about your student population is crucial. Sharing our results could increase awareness in students’ motivations and promote better support systems.


We would like to thank Jane Saczynski, PhD., for helping us with descriptive statistics.


  1. Anderson DC, Sheffield MC, Hill AM, Cobb HH. Influences on pharmacy students’ decision to pursue a Doctor of Pharmacy degree. Am J Pharm Educ. 2008;72(2):Article 22.
  2. Keshishian F. Factors influencing pharmacy students’ choice of major and its relationship to anticipatory socialization. Am J Pharm Educ. 2010;74(4). Article 75.
  3. Soria KM, Stebleton M. Major Decisions: Motivations for Selecting a Major, Satisfaction, and Belonging. NACADA Journal. 2013;33(2):29-43.

Jungeun “Cindy” Lee is a P4 student pharmacist at Northeastern University. Educational scholarship interests include leadership, cultural, and professional development. In her free time, Cindy enjoys exploring different coffee shops and spending time with family and friends.

Stephanie Yang is a P4 student pharmacist at Northeastern University. Educational scholarship interests include leadership, professional and personal development. In her free time, Stephanie enjoys dancing, reading, and spending time with family.

Jenny Van Amburgh is a Clinical Professor and Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs at Northeastern University, Bouvé College of Health Sciences – School of Pharmacy. Educational scholarship interests include active learning and teaching methodologies, faculty / peer evaluation processes, faculty development, and metacognition/mindfulness learning strategies.In her free time, Jenny enjoys spending time with her family, watching her daughters dance, boating, health / wellness activities (yoga, sprint triathlons), sewing, crocheting, and traveling.

Pulses is a scholarly blog supported by Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning

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