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METEOR project shows EU hospital clinicians ready to quit as retention issues continue

Almost one in 10 doctors across the European Union (EU) intend to leave their profession, according to a new cross-sectional study from the EU-funded METEOR Project, highlighting widespread retention issues.

Researchers from the METEOR Project – which collects scientific knowledge on job retention of healthcare workers in Europe to develop policy recommendations to increase job retention – asked 381 physicians and 1,351 nurses at hospitals in Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Poland about their intention to exit the profession or leave their current hospital, and the factors influencing their decisions to quit.

The results showed 9% of doctors and nearly 14% of nurses declaring an intention to leave their profession, citing low job satisfaction, growing depersonalisation and emotional exhaustion as the primary factors.

The survey also revealed 16.3% of doctors and 8.4% of nurses are considering leaving their current jobs. Factors impacting nurse and physician retention in hospitals highlighted job dissatisfaction, lack of career development and poor work-life balance as the main determinants of intention to leave,, which the researchers suggested can ‘help governments and hospital administrators combat the trend’.

Laura Maniscalco, co-author of the study and research fellow at the University of Palermo (UNIPA), said: ‘Many doctors want to leave their current workplaces because of the management and personal issues. In the high-stress environment of a hospital, they can face challenges in terms of work-life balance or conflicts that can result in bullying.

‘Additionally, the ineffectiveness of the management system and understaffing can force them to work in areas outside of their expertise, leading to role conflicts and reducing opportunities for career advancement.”

Domenica Matranga, a professor at the UNIPA and co-author of the study, added: ‘Our research suggests that nurses may [also] no longer find their job rewarding or valued. This issue is connected with relatively low salaries, tough working conditions and, of course, the physical and emotional pressure caused by the pandemic.‘

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This latest study adds to ongoing research highlighting and addressing the pressures on clinical workforces across the EU and UK.

Recommendations to enhance the wellbeing of doctors in Europe were published in November 2023 as part of a new policy from the Standing Committee of European Doctors. These aimed to improve patient care, professional excellence and overall job satisfaction and included focusing on adequate staffing and workload management, embracing a people-focused working culture, championing mentoring and peer support networks and supporting doctors as parents and carers.

Staff retention and mental health issues have also been noted amongst UK clinicians in recent months. A survey of 1,958 NHS health professionals from across the UK in September highlighted understaffing as a main factor pushing healthcare workers to leave the NHS.

A UK surgical workforce census report published in January 2024 found that 61% of respondents cited burnout and stress as the main challenge in surgery due to excessive workloads, and 50% of respondents across all career grades indicated that they considered leaving the workforce in the past year. 

And last summer NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard acknowledged that the NHS was seeing higher levels of sickness among staff compared to pre-pandemic, particularly due to poor mental health and anxiety, some of which she said was ‘directly related to what people have been through over what was an extraordinarily difficult few years’.

The turnover crisis comes as the healthcare sector struggles with an existing shortage of medical personnel. Projections from the World Health Organization indicate that in six years Europe will need 18.2 million healthcare workers to meet the growing demand for healthcare services driven by an ageing population and increased prevalence of chronic diseases.

As a result, the authors of this latest METEOR Project study are urging healthcare managers across the EU to ‘devise effective retention strategies, taking into account job satisfaction, work engagement, and a positive working climate’, adding that ‘such internal policies are crucial, given the difficulty of finding replacements for departing professionals’.