Objectives The number of UK graduates choosing General Practice training remains significantly lower than the current numbers required to meet the demands of the service. This work aims to explore medical students’ perceptions of General Practice, experiences which lead to the development of these perceptions, and the ultimate impact of these on career intention.

Design This mixed-methods, qualitative study used focus groups, semistructured interviews, longitudinal audio diary data and debrief interviews to explore and capture the experiences and perceptions of students in their first and penultimate years of university.

Setting Three English medical schools.

Participants Twenty students were recruited to focus groups from first and fourth/fifth year of study. All students in these years of study were invited to attend. Six students were recruited into the longitudinal diary study to further explore their experiences.

Results This work identified that external factors, internal driving force and the ‘they say’ phenomenon were all influential on the development of perceptions and ultimately career intention. External factors may be split into human or non-human influences, for example, aspirational/inspirational seniors, family, peers (human), placements and ‘the push’ of GP promotion (non-human). Driving force refers to internal factors, to which the student compares their experiences in an ongoing process of reflection, to understand if they feel General Practice is a career they wish to pursue. The ‘they say’ phenomenon refers to a passive and pervasive perception, without a known source, whereby usually negative perceptions circulate around the undergraduate community.

Conclusion Future strategies to recruit graduates to General Practice need to consider factors at an undergraduate level. Positive placement experiences should be maximised, while avoiding overtly ‘pushing’ GP onto students