Editorials

British doctors are not disappearing

BMJ 1997; 314 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.314.7094.1567 (Published 31 May 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;314:1567

But career patterns are changing

  1. Peter Richards, Medical directora,
  2. Chris McManus, Professor of psychologyb,
  3. Isobel Allen, Head of social care and health studiesc
  1. a Northwick Park and St Mark's NHS Trust, Harrow, HA1 3UJ
  2. b Imperial College School of Medicine at St Mary's, London W2 1PG
  3. c Policy Studies Institute, London NW1 3SR

    Rumours abound that recent graduates are leaving medicine. Last autumn, for example, BMA News Review declared, “Atrocious conditions force new doctors out of medicine” after an interview with the chairman of the General Medical Council's education committee. Yet we can find no evidence for statements that up to a quarter of doctors are leaving medicine within a few years of graduation. The loss is much smaller, and much is not permanent. Three separate questions have become confused: How many medical students do not complete the course? How many doctors leave medicine and at what stage? How many doctors leave the UK and therefore the NHS?

    Analysis of figures derived from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, the GMC,1 and other sources indicate to some observers that about 7% of medical students do not complete the course2 and to others that “at least 12%” do not. 3 About half of these students fail their exams and about half change their minds; a few fail because they changed their minds. Seven per cent is low for any professional or university course and would be hard to improve on, but clearly we need to know …

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