OBJECTIVE: To investigate the reasons for family medicine graduates' career choices. DESIGN: Qualitative study using focus groups and one-on-one interviews. SETTING: University of Calgary in Alberta. PARTICIPANTS: Seventeen male and female second-year family medicine residents, representing a range of ages and areas of origin, enrolled in the 2004 urban and rural south streams of the family medicine residency program at the University of Calgary. METHOD: During the final month of training, 2 focus groups were conducted to determine graduating students' career choices and the reasons for them. After focus-group data were analyzed, a questionnaire was constructed and subsequently administered to participants during face-to-face or telephone interviews. MAIN FINDINGS: Most residents initially planned to do urban locums in order to gain experience. In the long term, they planned to open practices in urban areas for lifestyle and family reasons. Many residents from the rural stream had no long-term plans to establish rural practices. Most residents said they felt prepared for practice, but many indicated that an optional third year of paid training, with an emphasis on emergency medicine, obstetrics, and pediatrics, would be desirable. Reasons cited for not practising in rural areas were related to workload, lifestyle issues, family obligations, and perceived lack of medical support in the community. Only 4 female graduates and 1 male graduate intended to practise obstetrics. The main reason residents gave for this was inadequate training in obstetrics during residency. Finances were cited as a secondary reason for many choices, and might in fact be more important than at first apparent. CONCLUSION: Despite its intention to recruit family medicine graduates to rural areas and to obstetrics, the University of Calgary residency training program was not successful in recruiting physicians to these areas. The program likely needs to re-examine the effectiveness of current approaches. If other programs are having similar difficulties recruiting graduates to obstetrics and rural practice, perhaps changes in policies should be considered.