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42% of British doctors plan to move abroad, study shows

Stress, staff shortages and paperwork cited as factors

Jo Carlowe

Tuesday, 04 October 2016

Almost half of UK doctors are looking to move overseas, a new study shows.

The findings from a British Medical Association study, published this week, report doctors saying they wish to move abroad because their current experience of being a doctor is worse than they had expected when they graduated. 

The BMA Cohort Doctor report is a ten year study of 430 doctors who, nine years post-graduation, are mostly progressing through specialty training or are working as qualified GPs. The report provides insights into career choice and working environments in terms of workplace morale, work related stress and work-life balance.

Key findings include:

• 42% of cohort doctors indicated that their current experience as a doctor was worse than they expected when they graduated;

• 42% plan to practise overseas, a slight increase on previous years, with 10% having applied for a certificate of good standing with a view to working abroad. Compared to previous points in their careers, the majority stated that they are now more likely to consider working overseas or leaving medicine, but are less likely to consider changing their specialty;

• The proportion of doctors stating that their current levels of morale are worse than each previous point in time (foundation training, speciality training, one year ago) is consistently greater than the proportion who state that it is now better;

•  6% of doctors took a break from medicine – an increase in proportion from last year;

• The biggest causes of stress were work-life balance responsibilities, a shortage of doctors and high levels of paperwork; 

• The past four surveys have seen a deterioration in perceptions of working atmosphere, working conditions, pace and intensity of work and complexity of work.

Dr Ellen McCourt, chair of the BMA’s junior doctors’ committee, said: “We have been saying for some time that morale amongst doctors is at an all-time low and these figures show, once again, that doctors are on a knife edge. They are reaching their limit, and if stretched any further, they will walk. 

“Given the results of this study, it makes no sense for the Government to rush the implementation of the junior doctor contract, which will only make things worse. With the NHS facing unprecedented pressure, it is critical to focus on how to assure its long-term future.  Junior doctors are central to this. If even a small number choose to vote with their feet, the future looks increasingly uncertain.”

This is the tenth and final report. 


The BMA cohort study of 2006 medical graduates is a 10 year longitudinal study of the career paths of 430 doctors.

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