Supporting clinicians to return to work after a break or absence is essential for high-quality patient care. Most clinicians will take a break from clinical work at some point in their career, a supported return helps us feel valued while ensuring that we have the staff numbers required to support patients. In recent years the NHS, Health Education England, professional bodies and others have tried to improve the support provided to returners. However, there is a lack of evidence on how best to support returning clinicians, meaning that we are not working from an evidence base like we do when caring for patients.

That is why we are launching a new study aiming to understand more about the experience of doctors returning to work so that we can improve the support provided based on evidence. To take part in this study by completing a 10-minute survey please click here.

What do we know about doctors returning to work?

Firstly, it’s important to remember what we know about doctors’ experiences of work in general. Doctors are more likely than many workers to experience burnout, psychological distress, and other health-related challenges. Meanwhile, doctors may face health-related stigma and barriers to accessing confidential support. While the health status and outcomes of doctors may be well-researched, our understanding behind the reasons for this from an occupational health perspective remains limited and focus on illness and treatment rather than prevention and health promotion.

This is true in relation to returning to work after an absence. We know that doctors may take an absence from clinical work for a variety of reasons including parental leave, carer duties, further education or research, personal health, among others. We even have some idea of the barriers and challenges that they may face on returning to clinical work and accessing support. These range from individual considerations, such as identity or confidence, through to social considerations, such as relationships with colleagues and peers, and organisational considerations, including availability of support and flexibility.

However, there is very limited research into the experiences of returning doctors, their needs upon return, and how these can be effectively met. We have recently completed a systematic review (which is under review for publication) that collated the limited evidence base and yielded some findings relating to the considerations outlined above. This is an important step towards understanding doctors’ needs when returning to work, from an individual, social, and organisational/systemic perspective.

What next?

Our research and the training and support we have provided to returning clinicians has been ongoing for the last few years. However, Covid-19 has brought the importance of supporting clinicians to the forefront of many more people’s minds, rightly so. This includes clinicians who returned to clinical work during the pandemic, as well as clinicians who may have required a break from clinical work as a result of the pandemic response and will need support to return again.

Consequently, we have a study near completion that has looked at the needs of clinicians who returned or were redeployed during the pandemic, alongside our recent systematic review and studies relating to the training that we have provided to returning clinicians.

Now we need doctors who have experience of returning to clinical work or supporting others to do so, to complete a 10-minute survey to identify the best ways to support doctors which we will use to develop a new needs assessment tool for returners. All participants will be entered into a prize draw to win a £50 voucher. The anonymous survey data will be developed further through semi-structured interviews and focus groups which will guide the design of the assessment tool and how it will be implemented. Our study hopes to improve the working lives of doctors returning to clinical work.

If you are interested in taking part in these aspects of the study or have any further questions, please contact Chris Attoe (, our Head of Research & Development and the Principal Investigator for this study.

Not a doctor but interested in return to work? We have two similar studies running concurrently for all healthcare professionals!

  • The first is investigating the relationship between autonomy and experience of return to work, please take the survey here.
  • The second is assessing the needs of health workers and their experiences of training, please take the survey here.

Discover more information about our mental health training for GPs.