To determine the career destinations, by 1995, of doctors who qualified in the United Kingdom in 1977; the relation between their destinations and early career choice; and their intentions regarding retirement age.
All (n=3135) medical qualifiers of 1977.
Main outcome measures
Current employment; year by year trends in the percentage of doctors who worked in the NHS, in other medical posts in the United Kingdom, abroad, in non-medical posts, outside medicine, and in part time work; intentions regarding retirement age.
After about 12 years the distribution of respondents by type of employment, and, for women, the percentage of doctors in part time rather than full time medical work, had stabilised. Of all 2997 qualifiers from medical schools in Great Britain, 2399 (80.0% (95% confidence interval 79.5% to 80.6%)) were working in medicine in the NHS in Great Britain 18 years after qualifying. Almost half the women (318/656) worked in the NHS part time. Of 1714 doctors in the NHS, 1125 intended to work in the NHS until normal retirement age, 392 did not, and 197 were undecided. Of the 1548 doctors for whom we had sufficient information, career destinations at 18 years matched the choices made at 1, 3, and 5 years in 58.9% (912), 78.2% (1211), and 86.6% (1341) of cases respectively.
Planning for the medical workforce needs to be supported by information about doctors’ career plans, destinations, and whole time equivalent years of work. Postgraduate training needs to take account of doctors’ eventual choice of specialty (and the timing of this choice).
Key messagesA large scale national study in the United Kingdom followed doctors from qualification to mid-career and beyondMost doctors had made their choice of eventual career—at least in terms of broadly defined specialty—within 5 years of qualifyingEighteen years on, 80% of the doctors were working in the NHS and nearly half of women doctors were working part timeAlmost a quarter of NHS doctors planned to retire early