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7 Reasons Doctors Are Leaving Medicine

Written By Lorna Collier on July 28, 2023

A recent survey reveals that one in four US clinicians is considering switching careers.

  • Doctor resting head in hand with stress, worry or burnout
    Why are physicians leaving practices or contemplating quitting?
    Increasing numbers of unhappy doctors are leaving their practices or considering leaving soon, surveys show. About 8% of doctors—representing about 16,000 practices—shut down in 2020 due to COVID-19’s impact on business.

    The pandemic caused stress, financial loss, and other problems for doctors, but physician dissatisfaction with the profession has been a problem for years. A 2018 survey conducted prior to the pandemic found 54% were considering retiring in the next five years (including 30% of those under 50). Why? What are the primary factors causing so many doctors to want to quit?
  • Serious, overworked, very sad male health care worker
    1. Burnout
    More than half (53%) of doctors say they are burned out, up from 47% the previous year, according to the latest burnout survey from Medscape. Female doctors report significantly higher rates of burnout (56%) than their male colleagues (41%).

    Emergency medicine and internal medicine are now among the most burned-out specialties. The top cited factors for burnout include too many bureaucratic tasks, lack of respect from employers and colleagues, and too many hours at work. About 4% of doctors said they’ve quit their practices due to burnout, 1% have attempted suicide, and 13% have felt suicidal. However, many respondents say they were burned out even before COVID.
  • Frustrated young woman talking with her doctor
    2. Increased verbal abuse and bullying by patients
    Some doctors report being cyberbullied, harassed or threatened when they interact with patients. Harry Severance, MD, adjunct assistant professor at Duke University School of Medicine, often speaks to doctors about career options. He says a physician recently confided that the verbal abuse he'd been receiving from patients had him contemplating quitting medicine.

    "When patients seem to turn on their doctors and accuse them of not operating in their best interest, that's a strong motivating force for leaving clinical practice altogether," Dr. Severance says. "For unhappy physicians already on the fence, this is a final straw."
  • Overworked healthcare worker stressed at home
    3. Insufficient income
    Even before the pandemic, some doctors—especially in less lucrative specialties or in low-paying residencies—struggled to pay such expenses as student loan debt (average: $241,600, with 25% exceeding $300,000) and malpractice premiums (as much $100,000 to $200,000 annually). Insufficient pay was cited by 34% of doctors as a burnout cause in Medscape's survey.
  • Male doctor in hospital corridor
    4. Long hours and lack of family time
    The average doctor works 53.4 hours per week and may have 24/7 or weekend on-call periods. A University of Michigan survey found that nearly 40% of female doctors chose to go part-time or quit entirely six years after completing medical training, citing family conflicts as the reason. (Less than 5% of male doctors do the same.)

    In Medscape's 2023 physician burnout report, "too many work hours" was cited by 37% of physicians overall. More female doctors also expressed concern over parenthood/work conflicts (48%) than did males (29%).
  • Side view of female nurse making medical report in computer at clinic
    5. Dealing with EHRs
    Electronic health records (EHRs) have been the bane of many doctors' existence in recent years, especially older physicians, with survey after survey citing them as difficult to use and interfering with doctor-patient interaction. This is especially true if a physician doesn't have a scribe and must input data into a computer during office visits, rather than maintaining eye contact.

    One study finds doctors spend two hours on EHR record-keeping for every single hour in clinical contact with patients. EHR dissatisfaction has been linked to higher burnout scores, and burnout can lead doctors to leave clinical practice or quit medicine altogether.
  • Unseen doctor with stethoscope writing on clipboard
    6. Too much bureaucracy
    It's not just EHRs that doctors perceive as taking them away from patients. "Too many bureaucratic tasks" was by far the highest-rated reason for physician burnout in Medscape's 2022 survey, with 60% of doctors citing it.

    Physicians spend nearly 25% of their time on nonclinical paperwork, a 2016 report found. They must deal with insurance companies, document compliance with various governmental regulations, and track quality data, among many other administrative chores. Doctors who go into medicine to work directly with patients can find such duties joyless and frustrating.
  • African American doctor looking at stacks of charts
    7. Lack of independence
    The majority of doctors today no longer work for themselves. As of January 2022, 74% of physicians were employed by a hospital or corporate entity, according to a study by the Physicians Advocacy Institute. Increasingly, doctors work for larger group practices, many of which today are owned by profit-driven private-equity firms.

    Doctors may be assigned larger caseloads than they feel is optimal and told how to treat patients by administrators focused on the bottom line, critics charge. Some physicians may choose to quit medicine rather than reduce quality of care.
7 Reasons Doctors Are Leaving Medicine | Healthgrades for Professionals
  1. A Treatment for America’s Healthcare Worker Burnout. https://www.bain.com/insights/a-treatment-for-americas-healthcare-worker-burnout/
  2. I Cry But No One Cares: Physician Burnout and Depression Report 2023. https://www.medscape.com/slideshow/2023-lifestyle-burnout-6016058
  3. Physician Burnout and Depression: Stress, Anxiety and Anger. 2022. Medscape. https://www.medscape.com/slideshow/2022-lifestyle-burnout-6014664#4
  4. ‘Death by 1000 Cuts’: Medscape National Physician Burnout & Suicide Report 2021. Medscape. https://www.medscape.com/slideshow/2021-lifestyle-burnout-6013456
  5. 2020 Survey of America’s Physicians: The COVID-19 Impact Edition. The Physicians Foundation. https://physiciansfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/20-1278-Merritt-Hawkins-2020-Physicians-Foundation-Survey.6.pdf
  6. COVID 19’s Impact on Acquisitions of Physicians Practices and Physician Employment 2019-2021. Physicians Advocacy Institute. http://www.physiciansadvocacyinstitute.org/Portals/0/assets/docs/PAI-Research/PAI%20Avalere%20Physician%20Employment%20Trends%20Study%202019-21%20Final.pdf?ver=ksWkgjKXB_yZfImFdXlvGg%3d%3d
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  8. Medscape Physician Compensation Report 2020. Medscape. https://www.medscape.com/slideshow/2020-compensation-overview-6012684#18
  9. 5 Reasons Why Physicians Are Leaving the Practice (And Where They Want to Go). Care ATC. https://www.careatc.com/ehs/5-reasons-why-physicians-are-leaving-the-practice-and-where-they-want-to-go
  10. Why women leave medicine. Association of American Medical Colleges. https://www.aamc.org/news-insights/why-women-leave-medicine
  11. Physicians' departure from private practice has accelerated since 2018, AMA says. Fierce Healthcare. https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/practices/physicians-departure-from-private-practice-has-accelerated-since-2018-ama-says
  12. What is the average medical school debt? Bankrate. https://www.bankrate.com/loans/student-loans/average-medical-school-debt/
  13. Average Medical Student Debt. Education Data. https://educationdata.org/average-medical-school-debt
  14. Medscape Residents Salary & Debt Report 2021. Medscape. https://www.medscape.com/slideshow/2021-residents-salary-debt-report-6014074#3
  15. New research links hard-to-use EHRs and physician burnout. American Medical Association. https://www.ama-assn.org/practice-management/digital/new-research-links-hard-use-ehrs-and-physician-burnout
  16. Shanafelt TD, Boone S, Tan L, et al. Burnout and Satisfaction With Work-Life Balance Among US Physicians Relative to the General US Population. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(18):1377–1385. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2012.3199
  17. Physicians report that organizational and technology changes are among the biggest burnout factors. Athena Health. https://www.athenahealth.com/knowledge-hub/clinical-trends/physicians-report-organizational-technology-changes-among-biggest-burnout-factors
  18. Private equity firms now control many hospitals, ERs and nursing homes. Is it good for health care? NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-care/private-equity-firms-now-control-many-hospitals-ers-nursing-homes-n1203161
  19. Private Equity Is Ruining American Healthcare — Physicians, patients lose when PE takes over; it's time to take medicine back. MedPage Today. https://www.medpagetoday.com/opinion/second-opinions/93615
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