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In 2020, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) reported that 6% to 7% of the physician workforce left practice settings each year. Recent data suggest that physician turnover has increased substantially; a 2022 survey of more than 500 physicians by CHG Healthcare found that 43% of survey respondents had changed jobs over the course of the prior 2 years, including 8% who retired and 3% who left medicine to pursue nonclinical careers.

Another 2023 survey of 500 physicians by the Massachusetts Medical Society found that 27% of survey respondents indicated that they would “definitely” or “likely” leave medicine within the next 2 years, suggesting that high rates of physician turnover are likely to continue.

Prior studies have shown that burnout is associated with higher physician turnover. A cross-sectional study of 1840 health professionals (including physicians, nurses, and midwives) employed by public hospitals and rehabilitation clinics in Switzerland found a significant association between burnout and thoughts of leaving medicine. Work-life imbalance was the strongest predictor of burnout symptoms among physicians, but effort-reward mismatch was the strongest predictor for having thoughts of leaving the medical profession.

Another study looking at burnout and physician attrition in a cohort of 472 physicians at 2 Stanford University system hospitals who had completed a physician wellness survey reported that individuals who met criteria for burnout were more than twice as likely to have left the institution over the ensuing 2 years as compared with individuals who did not meet criteria for burnout4; importantly, in this study, individuals who reported moderate or greater intention to leave (ITL) the institution within the next 2 years on the baseline survey were at significantly increased risk of attrition during the ensuing 2 years compared with those who did not endorse ITL, suggesting that ITL is a significant risk factor for subsequent physician turnover.

And last December new research was published in the JAMA Network Open which addressed the question of what proportion of academic physicians intend to leave their current institution within the next 2 years, and what factors are associated with intention to leave?

In this new cross-sectional study of 18,719 academic physicians, approximately one-third reported moderate or greater intention to leave. Burnout, lack of professional fulfillment, and other personal and organizational factors were associated with intention to leave.

These results underscore the importance of the connections between academic physicians and both institutional leadership and mission, as well as point to the need for developing initiatives with a comprehensive approach that considers burnout, professional fulfillment, and other organizational and individual level well-being factors to help prevent physician turnover.”

In California, about half, or 49.09%, of the state’s primary care needs were met in 2022, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Dr. Scott Robertson, the President and CEO of Pacific Central Coast Health Centers, was asked if there are enough doctors to match the need of our population. “We absolutely do not,” he said. “I’ve been here for 20 years, both practicing primary care and being an administrator with Dignity Health, and during my entire time here we have not had enough.”

Dr. Robertson says, on the Central Coast, it often takes several weeks to a few months to get an initial appointment with a primary care physician. If there wasn’t a shortage, that would be one to two weeks.

The American Medical Association expects a wave of retirements as a significant portion of the physician workforce is nearing the retirement age. That’s a third of doctors in California.