Objective: To report the changes to UK medicine which doctors who have emigrated tell us would increase their likelihood of returning to a career in UK medicine.
Design: Questionnaire survey.
Setting: UK-trained medical graduates.
Participants: Questionnaires were sent 11 years after graduation to 7158 doctors who qualified in 1993 and 1996 in the UK: 4763 questionnaires were returned. Questionnaires were sent 17 and 19 years after graduation to the same cohorts: 4554 questionnaires were returned.
Main outcome measures: Comments from doctors working abroad about changes needed to UK medicine before they would return.
Results: Eleven years after graduation, 290 (6%) of respondents were working in medicine abroad; 277 (6%) were doing so 17/19 years after graduation. Eleven years after graduation, 53% of doctors working abroad indicated that they did not intend to return, and 71% did so 17/19 years after graduation. These respondents reported a number of changes which would need to be made to UK medicine in order to increase the likelihood of them returning. The most frequently mentioned changes cited concerned 'politics/management/funding', 'pay/pension', 'posts/security/opportunities', 'working conditions/hours', and 'factors outside medicine'.
Conclusions: Policy attention to factors including funding, pay, management and particularly the clinical-political interface, working hours, and work-life balance may pay dividends for all, both in terms of persuading some established doctors to return and, perhaps more importantly, encouraging other, younger doctors to believe that the UK and the National Health Service can offer them a satisfying and rewarding career.
Keywords: Physicians; attitude of health personnel; career choice; emigration; medical staff; travel.