Research finds less paperwork; better IT, could slow the exit of trainee doctors

20 Oct, 2020

New UK-based research establishes an association between the daily mood of trainee doctors and their intention to quit. The study also suggests changes to health workplace settings that could help to improve mood and staff retention.

The international research team was led by Peter Hockey (Professor of Clinical Education at the University of Sydney, Australia) and included Rhema Vaithianathan and Larissa Lorimer from CSDA.

In “Measuring the working experience of doctors in training” (Future Healthcare Journal, October 2020) researchers find that the mood of trainee doctors is influenced by the types of tasks they are required to carry out, with each task type contributing a specific measure of positive or negative impact to the overall experience.

This means it may be possible for healthcare leaders to improve the overall wellbeing of trainee doctors – and the chances they will stay in the medical profession – by changing the mix of tasks they are required to do, where possible favouring tasks that contribute strongly to a positive mood and reducing or reconfiguring tasks that tend to lower mood.

The researchers makes novel use of the Day Reconstruction Method devised by noted Princeton University psychologist and economist Daniel Kahneman. The participants, 565 trainee doctors from Wessex, UK, reported how they spent their time at work and how they felt during different activities, using a purpose-built online survey tool.

“Improving the retention of this key workforce is a priority for the healthcare system in the UK, and many others worldwide,” says Dr Peter Hockey, who was Postgraduate Dean of Health Education England (HEE) Working across Wessex at the time of the research. “These initial findings are promising, and I hope we can see the work extended and applied. At the very least this shows it is possible to identify changeable factors that could help to improve the lived experience of doctors in training.”

While this study was conducted before the Covid-19 pandemic, Hockey says that the effects of the pandemic make this work even more relevant world-wide: “post-Covid, focusing on emotional experience and happiness at work, especially in the health sector, is even more important.”

Researchers found that the tasks most associated with negative emotion were paperwork, ward rounds and IT facing tasks and intention to quit had significant associations with emotions of tiredness, frustration, impatience, and worry.

“We find that systematic workplace changes including enforcing regular breaks, reducing paperwork and improving IT systems could contribute to positive workday experiences and potentially help to reduce the intention to quit,” says Rhema Vaithianathan.

Find out more about the MyDay Survey with Health Education England, Working Across Wessex