Understanding doctors’ decisions to migrate from the UK

Why did we commission this research?

The overall aim of this research was to understand the decision-making processes of doctors leaving the UK workforce to practise medicine overseas. This research built on previous work by exploring migration ‘decision journeys’ and the practical steps and considerations involved at each stage of the process.

It’s hoped that the findings will enable organisations to identify potential opportunities to retain more doctors, where it is ethical and appropriate to do so, to support the sustainable development of the UK medical workforce.

What did the research involve?

  • The research involved 90 in-depth qualitative interviews with doctors who have already migrated, as well as those planning to do so in the future. 
  • The use of interviews allowed for a thorough exploration of doctors’ memories around their decision to migrate, using an adaptation of the ‘life history’ interviewing method. 

What were the key findings?

  • The research provides an overview of migration journeys from the initial idea through to moving abroad. It details common triggers points, steps involved, and the factors influencing decisions along the way. The report sets out what is typical and where variation exists.
  • The research was not intended to produce an exhaustive segmentation of doctors leaving the UK to practise abroad. However, analysis of the interviews led to the emergence of different groups of migrating doctors based on common characteristics, contexts and factors influencing migration decisions:
    • Burnt-out GPs: while many doctors in our study mentioned experiencing burnout, there were some specific issues in primary care driving GPs to migrate. 
    • Career-limited doctors: international mid-career doctors who felt that they had exhausted all possible career opportunities in the UK. 
    • Disheartened EU and international doctors: doctors in their mid-career, often with young families, who recounted negative experiences at work, directly or indirectly, in relation to their identity as a foreign national living and working in the UK. 
    • Disillusioned doctors: mostly UK-trained doctors in their mid to late career who were driven to migrate due to frustrations with the health system in the UK.
    • Internationally mobile doctors: consultants in their mid-career who had plenty of previous experience abroad, working in different countries whenever the opportunity allowed or when administrative or visa issues determined. 
    • Older explorers: older doctors who had spent most of their career working within the NHS, seeking adventure, a new professional experience or a challenge. 
    • Salary seekers: typically made up of men in their 40s who had come to a point within their career when they realised that their current salary and future salary prospects were not sufficient to sustain the quality of life they desired. 
    • Young explorers: this group was made up of early-career, UK-trained doctors who typically had travel in mind from medical school, seeking fun and adventure.

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