By Julian Sheather and Dubhfeasa Slattery
Taken directly from the British Medical Journal
Doctors constantly went above and beyond their ordinary obligations to respond to a threat to national and global wellbeing. But they aren’t inexhaustible.
Economists have called the coming months the time of “the great resignation” and our healthcare service is unlikely to emerge unscathed from it. A recent survey of UK doctors found that half of those who responded plan to work fewer hours, with a further 21% considering leaving the NHS completely. The number of doctors planning to take early retirement is also on the rise.
Working at the pace required to maintain care standards is becoming impossible and the profession deserves better. Unless the needs of doctors are urgently tackled, medicine is at risk of an eviscerating departure of highly trained clinicians. Burnout has been found to be the factor most strongly related to doctors’ plans to withdraw from the clinical workforce.
The silent loss of highly skilled “go-to’’ colleagues—expert clinicians, mentors, trainers, and key communicators—has a significant impact on patient care, training, career progression, and the workload of colleagues who remain. Loss of this support framework may add to the existing pressure on doctors, leading to increased burnout, more adverse incidents, and greater patient harm.
How should we respond? Good leadership involves anticipating problems.
Develop and implement a robust organisational framework that supports medical professionalism to improve staff wellbeing and patient centred care.
Invest in a range of evidence based interventions to tackle burnout, including individual focused and organisation directed workplace initiatives.
Formal mechanism for transitioning senior professionals gradually and partially from full time clinical work to leadership, training, mentoring, and quality and process improvement work. Implementing an organisational system that helps doctors to transition into other areas should help prevent them from retiring early because of clinical workloads.
To identify the real problems and inefficiencies in systems, and to codesign practical, solution focused interventions that are acceptable to patient-facing staff, while bridging the gaps that may exist between management and clinicians.
Sheather J, Slattery D. The great resignation—how do we support and retain staff already stretched to their limit? BMJ 2021; 375 :n2533 doi:10.1136/bmj.n2533