OBJECTIVE: Recent efforts to redress the deficit of rural medical practitioners have considered the problem of recruitment and retention of rural doctors as one of influencing individuals' career choices. Exposure to rural medical environments during basic medical training is one long-standing example of an initiative aimed in this direction and there is some evidence that it is effective. This study sought to determine whether or not various domains of personality are related to medical students' attitude to practising as rural doctors after graduation. DESIGN: The sample comprised 914 students commencing medical studies in Australian universities. They were recruited as part of the Medical Schools Outcomes Database project and indicated intended location of future medical practice. SETTING: Seven Australian basic medical training programs. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: All students completed the NEO five-factor index (NEO-FFI) and Adjective Checklist (ACL) personality instruments. RESULTS: A preference for a rural practice location was associated with a combination of six domains of personality. The probability of rural preference was greater with higher scores on openness to experience, agreeableness and self-confidence but lower with higher scores on extraversion, autonomy and intraception. Taken together these six domains of personality provide useful although imperfect discrimination between students with a rural versus urban location preference. After controlling for student age the associations with extraversion and agreeableness failed to reach statistical significance. CONCLUSIONS: While personality does not fully explain medical students' attitude towards practicing as a rural doctor, the data suggest it is an important factor and that some individuals may be better suited to a rural medical career than others. Considering personality along with other characteristics of the individual might allow targeted 'marketing' of rural practice.