Hospital Dr News

Large numbers of junior doctors take breaks in training to protect health

More than half of junior doctors have taken time out of training, with many doing so due to concerns for their own health and struggles over future decisions, according to research.

The survey of 2,164 junior doctors asked respondents about their experience of breaks in clinical training.

A common motivation for those who took breaks was uncertainty over career speciality, with respondents saying time out allowed them space for decision making.

A significant number also said “health and wellbeing” was a key driver for taking a break from the “treadmill” of training.

Key findings of the BMA research include:

  • 56% of respondents said they had taken a break in training, with the majority of these (28%) taking this after Foundation Year 2 (FY2) – a trend increasingly known as “F3”;
  • The most common reason given for those who had taken breaks was to go abroad (26%), followed by maternity/paternity leave (24%);
  • A significant number (19%) said they had taken a break for “health and wellbeing” reasons, with doctors undecided on their speciality and those training for general practice most likely to have done so for this reason.

Dr Jeeves Wijesuriya, BMA junior doctors committee chair, commented: “We must work with education providers to consider the underlying reasons for junior doctors wanting to take a step back before committing to a certain career path. Further, with work-life balance and the ability to take future breaks key factors in career decisions for today’s junior doctors, it is evident that workforce planning must take into account this need for greater flexibility.

“Current data suggests that the majority of those who took breaks in the past have returned to training, however, there is no guarantee that this will continue to happen, and our research shows that the process of re-entering training can be fraught with difficulties. It is therefore vital employers provide the necessary support to ensure a seamless return to work.”

Dr Wijesuriya said the commitments laid out by HEE in last year’s Supported Return to Training project are a step in the right direction.

One ST3 respondent commented: “Given the workload across all specialties in the NHS and increasing pressures in the face of poor funding, poor staffing and very low morale, I still feel regular breaks out are essential for doctors’ wellbeing. This helps to prevent burn out and allows us time to tend to the other important aspects of our lives which can get so neglected when working full time.”

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