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Hum Resour Health. 2011 Feb 17;9:7. doi: 10.1186/1478-4491-9-7.

A national survey of 'inactive' physicians in the United States of America: enticements to reentry.

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  • 1Dept of Data Acquisition Services, American Medical Association, 515 N State St,, Chicago, IL 60654, USA.



Physicians leaving and reentering clinical practice can have significant medical workforce implications. We surveyed inactive physicians younger than typical retirement age to determine their reasons for clinical inactivity and what barriers, real or perceived, there were to reentry into the medical workforce.


A random sample of 4975 inactive physicians aged under 65 years was drawn from the Physician Masterfile of the American Medical Association in 2008. Physicians were mailed a survey about activity in medicine and perceived barriers to reentry. Chi-square statistics were used for significance tests of the association between categorical variables and t-tests were used to test differences between means.


Our adjusted response rate was 36.1%. Respondents were fully retired (37.5%), not currently active in medicine (43.0%) or now active (reentered, 19.4%). Nearly half (49.5%) were in or had practiced primary care. Personal health was the top reason for leaving for fully retired physicians (37.8%) or those not currently active in medicine (37.8%) and the second highest reason for physicians who had reentered (28.8%). For reentered (47.8%) and inactive (51.5%) physicians, the primary reason for returning or considering returning to practice was the availability of part-time work or flexible scheduling. Retired and currently inactive physicians used similar strategies to explore reentry, and 83% of both groups thought it would be difficult; among those who had reentered practice, 35.9% reported it was difficult to reenter. Retraining was uncommon for this group (37.5%).


Availability of part-time work and flexible scheduling have a strong influence on decisions to leave or reenter clinical practice. Lack of retraining before reentry raises questions about patient safety and the clinical competence of reentered physicians.

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