The Role of Intrinsic Motivation in the Pursuit of Health Science-Related Careers among Youth from Underrepresented Low Socioeconomic Populations


A more diverse health science-related workforce including more underrepresented race/ethnic minorities, especially from low socioeconomic backgrounds, is needed to address health disparities in the USA. To increase such diversity, programs must facilitate youth interest in pursuing a health science-related career (HSRC). Minority youth from low socioeconomic families may focus on the secondary gains of careers, such as high income and status, given their low socioeconomic backgrounds. On the other hand, self-determination theory suggests that it is the intrinsic characteristics of careers which are most likely to sustain pursuit of an HSRC and lead to job satisfaction. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation for pursuing an HSRC (defined in this study as health professional, health scientist, and medical doctor) was examined in a cohort of youth from the 10th to 12th grade from 2011 to 2013. The sample was from low-income area high schools, had a B- or above grade point average at baseline, and was predominantly: African American (65.7 %) or Hispanic (22.9 %), female (70.1 %), and children of foreign-born parents (64.7 %). In longitudinal general estimating equations, intrinsic motivation (but not extrinsic motivation) consistently predicted intention to pursue an HSRC. This finding provides guidance as to which youth and which qualities of HSRCs might deserve particular attention in efforts to increase diversity in the health science-related workforce.

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The authors would like to thank the Prince George’s County Public School administrators, teachers, parents, and students who contributed so thoughtfully to this project.


This project was supported by a grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, #R01GM094574 and a cooperative agreement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Prevention Research Centers Program, #U48DP001929.

Other Disclosures

Not applicable.

Ethical Approval

The protocol for student recruitment and baseline data collection for this project was approved by the Prince George’s County Public Schools in a letter from the Director, Department of Research and Evaluation dated December 21, 2010. The protocol for student recruitment as well as all aspects participation of human subjects over the course of this study was monitored and approved by the University of Maryland Institutional Review Board (Project No. 328262).


Opinions expressed herein are solely those of the authors and may not reflect those of the supporting agencies.

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Correspondence to Bradley O. Boekeloo.

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Boekeloo, B.O., Jones, C., Bhagat, K. et al. The Role of Intrinsic Motivation in the Pursuit of Health Science-Related Careers among Youth from Underrepresented Low Socioeconomic Populations. J Urban Health 92, 980–994 (2015).

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  • African American and Hispanic youth career decision-making
  • Achieving diversity in the health science workforce
  • Motivation for health science among youth
  • Workforce to address health disparities
  • Biomedical and health science career choice