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General Medical Council

Understanding doctors’ decisions to migrate from the UK

The brief

The General Medical Council (GMC) commissioned Shift Insight to conduct an in-depth study to understand the decision-making processes of doctors leaving the UK workforce to practise medicine overseas.

The research aimed to build on the previous work on medical migration by moving beyond setting out the international migration trends that are taking place and describing reasons for migration, to understanding how the actual decision-making process to migrate internationally works for doctors in practice. The research detailed the steps between an initial interest in migration and moving abroad, and how the associated push and pull factors around migration vary, for different types of doctors looking to leave the UK. The project aimed to contribute to identifying potential opportunities to retain more doctors, to support the sustainable development of the UK medical workforce.

The approach

  • The study involved 90 depth interviews with doctors who have already migrated, as well as those planning to do so in the future, with sample development influenced by existing research/trends.
  • Interviews allowed for a thorough exploration of doctors’ memories around their decision to migrate, using an adaptation of the ‘life history’ interviewing method. They were structured around a chronological timeline or personal journey to help respondent recall and to overcome the challenges of discussing migration experiences retrospectively.
  • Transcripts were thematically coded, and further analysis identified differences in doctors’ decision-making journeys considering the demography, behaviours and the key push and pull factors. This facilitated the creation of 8 ‘groups’ of migrating doctors − representations of different types of individuals based on a set of qualities or traits that were specific to that group, which was a key aim of the research.

The value

  • This research builds on previous work, with a particular emphasis on better understanding doctors’ migration decisions, and the final report details the different types of doctors that migrate to practise outside of the UK. The full research report is available to read here.
  • The rich insights from this study aim to support organisations to identify potential opportunities to retain more doctors, where it is ethical and appropriate to do so, to support the sustainable development of the UK medical workforce.
  • To support with this, as part of our involvement, Shift Insight successfully developed and ran an engaging online workshop with the GMC and other stakeholders in the healthcare sector to discuss the key findings of the research and where this raises suitable opportunities to intervene and retain more doctors in the UK. This facilitated insightful discussions and considerations for next steps.