Doctors’ career choices a ‘new reality’ which health services cannot ignore

Doctors are making deliberate choices to manage their careers and wellbeing which must be considered by the new Government, a General Medical Council (GMC) report has found.

The state of medical education and practice in the UK 2019 published today (Wednesday 18 December) highlights changing approaches to work-life balance and career development which impact on UK health services’ ability to plan for patient demand.

Against a backdrop of rising workloads and the need to recruit and retain a sustainable medical workforce, the report finds doctors moving away from traditional career and training paths. Career choices balancing wellbeing with work have become the norm and may signal a ‘new reality’.

Among notable trends is the rise in the number of doctors choosing to spend time working as a locum, practising medicine abroad, or even taking a year out, rather than going straight into specialty or GP training after the completion of their initial training.

Some do so because they’re unable to go into the specialty training they want straight away. But for many the pressures of working in stretched services are a major factor.

GMC analysis shows that doctors who paused before starting their specialty training were, on average, at less risk of burnout.

The state of medical education and practice in the UK also highlights growing popularity of GP specialist training, with a 6% increase in doctors joining. However, more doctors doesn’t necessarily mean an overall increase in GP availability, and concerns remain that patient demand is outstripping supply.

45% of GPs reported that they work less than full time, and 36% have reduced their hours in the past year.

GMC Chief Executive Charlie Massey said: ‘The challenge our health services are facing is no secret. We need more flexible training and career options if high levels of patient care and safety are to be sustained. 

"The challenge our health services are facing is no secret. We need more flexible training and career options if high levels of patient care and safety are to be sustained. "

Charlie Massey

GMC Chief Executive

'Doctors say they are no longer prepared to stick with the traditional career paths to meet that demand. We are seeing what looks like a permanent shift in the way newer doctors plan their careers.

‘That doctors are making choices for a better work-life balance and career development is a new reality which health services cannot ignore. Establishing a sustainable workforce and encouraging supply, particularly of expert generalists who can spread the burden in primary care, is vital.’ 

In addition to more informed workforce planning, The state of medical education and practice in the UK also calls on governments and health leaders to ensure:

  • greater flexibility in medical training and practice
  • better resourcing and planning of clinical leadership 
  • joined-up regulation across the UK’s health services. 

Charlie Massey added:

‘Ensuring doctors have supportive and compassionate workplaces is vital and will be the focus of much of our work in 2020. But the incoming government must also listen to, and act on, concerns that are being raised by us, employers, patients and doctors.’

Read The state of medical education and practice in the UK 2019.