According to a study from the leading recruitment firm Jackson Physician Research, 54% of physicians say that COVID-19 prompted them to change careers. In that group, 50% plan to switch employers, 21% are retiring early, and 15% plan to leave the medical field altogether. A majority—69%—of employed physicians feel disengaged from their employers and 21% feel passively engaged. A mere 10% feel actively engaged, meaning that a whopping 90% of respondents feel no attachment to their employers. Not surprisingly, many of these physicians report COVID-19 as significantly influencing their desire to change jobs. Other cited concerns include employers being hyper-focused on patient satisfaction, letting physician satisfaction fall to the wayside.

COVID-19 is not the only factor affecting physician career changes. A large number of physician respondents, or 63%, report lack of pay increases as the most important element in their decision to leave. Not surprisingly, pay is an impetus for healthcare administrators seeking career changes as well, with 51% ranking additional compensation as being paramount to their decision. Time off is another factor for both physicians and administrators, ranking most important to 12% and 16%, respectively.

It is worth noting, however, that 83% of physicians were unaware of their employers’ retention programs, whereas 30% of administrators were unaware. As such, lack of communication may be part of the problem. Similar discrepancies between physician and administrator reports exist regarding face time with senior managers, with 81% of administrators reporting such offerings, as opposed to a mere 40% of physicians reporting that option. Yet another discrepancy among physician and administrator opinions exists with regard to job recognition. Only 23% of physicians report that their employers institute a formal job recognition program, compared to 43% of administrators reporting such programs.

A key factor in physicians undergoing mid-career changes is the burden of school debts, which the Association of American Medical Colleges estimates to be an average of $200,000. Medical school graduate debt today is likely to be two to three times higher than it was 30 years ago. According to an article in Money, the average cost of earning a medical degree from a public medical school is $260,000, and that number is even higher for private medical schools. However, the average salary for a primary care physician is approximately $195,000. This results in a significant amount of pressure for today’s medical students to earn money, especially those who choose not to become specialists. Starting their careers with the equivalent of a mid-sized mortgage payment, not including any actual mortgage payments needed to keep a roof over their heads, lead many physicians to change careers well before retirement age.