Headlines: April 14th, 2004

Doctors quit medicine because they feel undervalued by the National Health Service according to a report from the British Medical Association. The first ever report into why doctors give up careers in medicine, says they feel that a lack of professional and emotional support and an unacceptable work-life balance combine to make working in the NHS intolerable.The study is based on interviews with fourteen men and women who graduated from medical school in 1995 but then decided to give up medicine. It says poor working conditions, such as cold on-call rooms and a lack of food, were seen by doctors as signs of how little they were valued.The problems cited by the doctors were not to do with medicine itself but connected with working in the NHS. One frequent frustration was the shortage of resources, which meant doctors could not give patients the standard of care they wanted. The long working hours and a lack of opportunity to train part-time also had a devastating effect.Quotes from interviewees included, “I was just married and wanted to see my husband but when you work one night on, one off, how can you have a relationship?” Another said, “In medicine you have to do your five years and probably another five, six years before you’re actually qualified to a high enough grade to get part-time work,” and “There were weeks when I was working well over 100 hours.”

The BMA said a key finding of the report was how traumatic the decision to leave the medical profession had been for those who left. Many of those interviewed still felt bitter or disappointed, and still considered medicine to be their first love and all of them had some interest in returning to medicine, but many felt they were lost to the system. None of those in the study was aware of the NHS programmes to attract them back to the profession.

The report does say some aspects of life for junior doctors have improved. For example, as a result of contract changes and European legislation, their hours are being brought down to safe levels but the report says more needs to be done to make them feel more valued. It calls for better access to part-time and flexible working for doctors in the early stages of training, for all junior doctors to have access to a confidential advocate to point them to careers advice and occupational health services and better use of mentoring schemes