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Physician Re-entry Becoming Larger Issue as Practice Landscape Changes

Liz Jones, May 7, 2009

With a physician shortage looming, healthcare leaders are increasingly focusing on physician re-entry. The hope is that by helping physicians who have retired or otherwise left practice brush up on their clinical skills and re-enter the workforce, the industry might slow the bleeding.

However, few physician-reentry programs exist, and not all state medical boards agree on what is required to determine a physician's competence.

For physicians thinking of reentering the workforce, it can be a daunting decision. In a recent statement in AMA eVoice, AMA President Nancy H. Nielson puts it this way:

"Imagine taking a leave of absence from clinical practice. After several years, you decide you want to start practicing again. But before you can, you must pass a written examination of 3,000 questions—only six of which pertain to your specialty. If you don't pass the test, you won't be allowed to re-enter clinical practice, at least for the time being."

The American Academy of Pediatrics is spearheading The Physician Re-entry into the Workforce Project to create guidelines, recommendations, and strategies to help clinically inactive physicians re-enter the workforce. "This is the profession's early attempts to come up with a standardized approach to physician reentry," says Jonathan Burroughs, MD, MBA, CMSL, senior consultant with The Greeley Company, a division of HCPro, Inc., in Marblehead, MA.

Twenty to 30 years ago, physician re-entry wasn't an issue, as most physicians were clinically active until they retired. Most physicians were men, Burroughs explains, and they were committed for life. "They weren't expected to take time off, either for personal fulfillment, professional interests, or family. That was not part of the culture in those days, so the vast majority of physicians followed a predictable pattern."

Clinical inactivity is common today, given the growing focus on work-life balance and the multitude of career opportunities available to physicians. "They are going back to graduate school to get their PhDs, going into administration, or choosing alternate careers," says Barbara Schneidman, interim CEO for the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB).

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