Attrition from emergency medicine clinical practice in the United States

Ann Emerg Med. 2010 Aug;56(2):166-71. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2009.11.002. Epub 2009 Dec 24.


Study objective: We estimate the annual attrition from emergency medicine clinical practice.

Methods: We performed a cross-sectional analysis of the American Medical Association's 2008 Physician Masterfile, which includes data on all physicians who have ever obtained a medical license in at least 1 US state. We restricted the analysis to physicians who completed emergency medicine residency training or who obtained emergency medicine board certification. We defined attrition as not being active in emergency medicine clinical practice. Attrition was reported as cumulative and annualized rates, with stratification by years since training graduation. Death rates were estimated from life tables for the US population.

Results: Of the 30,864 emergency medicine-trained or emergency medicine board-certified physicians, 26,826 (87%) remain active in emergency medicine clinical practice. Overall, type of attrition was 45% to non-emergency medicine clinical practice, 22% retired, 14% administration, and 10% research/teaching. Immediate attrition (<2 years since training graduation) was 6.5%. The cumulative attrition rates from 2 to 15 years postgraduation were stable (5% to 9%) and thereafter were progressively higher, with 18% having left emergency medicine clinical practice at 20 years postgraduation and 25% at 30 years postgraduation. Annualized attrition rates were highest for the first 5 years postgraduation and after 40 years postgraduation; between 5 and 40 years, the rates remained low (<1%). The overall annual attrition rate from emergency medicine clinical practice, including estimated death rate, was approximately 1.7%.

Conclusion: Despite the high stress and demands of emergency medicine, overall attrition remains low and compares favorably with that of other medical specialties. These data have positive implications for the emergency physician workforce and are important for accurate estimation of and planning for emergency physician workforce needs.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Career Choice
  • Certification
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Emergency Medicine* / education
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Personnel Turnover / statistics & numerical data
  • Physicians / statistics & numerical data
  • United States
  • Workforce