A survey of doctors who quit working in the UK between 2004 and 2019 has revealed that dissatisfaction and burnout were among the main reasons they gave for leaving their jobs.

The GMC, in partnership with Health Education England, the Department of Health Northern Ireland, NHS Education for Scotland and Health Education and Improvement Wales, surveyed more than 13,000 doctors. Research was conducted just ahead of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.

Doctors were asked to select and rank factors which played a part in their decision to leave. Many cited personal reasons, such as retirement (27%) or returning to their home country (32%). But workplace issues were given by many including dissatisfaction (36%) and burnout (27%). Bullying was included as a reason by 5.5% of respondents.

When analysing respondents’ top three reasons for leaving, lifestyle factors were cited more often than workplace issues.

Concerningly, doctors with some protected characteristics were more likely to include certain negative reasons for leaving. For example, disabled doctors were more likely to report bullying as a factor, while BME doctors, and some religious groups, reported higher levels of bullying and harassment. LGBT doctors more commonly reported mental health issues.

More than half (55%) of doctors who had left UK practice were still working clinically abroad, while around a third (30%) had retired. Most retirees were still living in the UK, although almost none said they were likely to return.

The survey also sought to identify the likelihood of doctors returning to work in the UK, and any barriers that might prevent them from doing so.

About a third (35%) said they wanted to return to work but only 23% thought it likely that they would. Of those who thought a return was likely, 90% were abroad.

Barriers to a return were often similar to the reasons given for leaving, but 8% cited the lack of a suitable induction back into work, and 5% said they were unsure where to find information about how to go about it.

“This report sheds a fascinating and important light on the reasons doctors leave and what might be preventing them from returning.”

Charlie Massey, Chief Executive of the GMC said:

‘This report sheds a fascinating and important light on the reasons doctors leave and what might be preventing them from returning.

“More than a third of doctors who left cited workplace issues, which underlines the importance of addressing dissatisfaction. To encourage doctors and other healthcare professionals to stay in the profession, well-led, supportive and compassionate workplaces are vital.

“It’s clear that there’s no panacea. But improvements in areas like induction and information could also make a big difference in encouraging more doctors to return to practise.”

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