Why Residents Quit: National Rates of and Reasons for Attrition Among Emergency Medicine Physicians in Training

West J Emerg Med. 2019 Mar;20(2):351-356. doi: 10.5811/westjem.2018.11.40449. Epub 2019 Feb 11.


Introduction: Recruiting and retaining residents who will complete their emergency medicine (EM) training is vital, not only because residency positions are a limited and costly resource, but also to prevent the significant disruptions, increased workload, and low morale that may arise when a resident prematurely leaves a program. We investigated national rates of EM resident attrition and examined the reasons and factors associated with their attrition.

Methods: In this retrospective, observational study we used national data from the American Medical Association National Graduate Medical Education Census for all residents who entered Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education-accredited EM programs between academic years 2006-2007 and 2015-2016. Our main outcome was the annual national rate of EM resident attrition. Secondary outcomes included the main reason for attrition as well as resident factors associated with attrition.

Results: Compared to the other 10 largest specialties, EM had the lowest rate of attrition (0.8%, 95% confidence interval [CI] [0.7-0.9]), or approximately 51.6 (95% CI [44.7-58.5]) residents per year. In the attrition population, 44.2% of the residents were women, a significantly higher proportion when compared to the proportion of female EM residents overall (38.8%, p=0.011). A greater proportion of Hispanic/Latino (1.8%) residents also left their programs when compared to their White (0.9%) counterparts (p<0.001). In examining reasons for attrition as reported by the program director, female residents were significantly more likely than male residents to leave due to "health/family reasons" (21.5% vs 9.6%, p=0.019).

Conclusion: While the overall rate of attrition among EM residents is low, women and some under-represented minorities in medicine had a higher than expected rate of attrition. Future studies that qualitatively investigate the factors contributing to greater attrition among female and some ethnic minority residents are necessary to inform efforts promoting inclusion and diversity within the specialty.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Career Choice
  • Emergency Medicine* / education
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency* / statistics & numerical data
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Student Dropouts / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States
  • Workload