Returning to clinical work and doctors' personal, social and organisational needs: a systematic review

Chris Attoe*, Raluca Matei, Laura Thompson, Kevin Teoh, Sean Cross, Tom Cox

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Objective This systematic review aims to synthesise existing evidence on doctors' personal, social and organisational needs when returning to clinical work after an absence. Design Systematic review using Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines. Data sources AMED, BNI, CINAHL, EMBASE, EMCARE, HMIC, Medline, PsycINFO and PubMed were searched up to 4 June 2020. Non-database searches included references and citations of identified articles and pages 1-10 of Google and Google Scholar. Eligibility criteria Included studies presented quantitative or qualitative data collected from doctors returning to work, with findings relating to personal, social or organisational needs. Data extraction and synthesis Data were extracted using a piloted template. Risk of bias assessment used the Medical Education Research Study Quality Instrument or Critical Appraisal Skills Programme Qualitative Checklist. Data were not suitable for meta-analyses and underwent narrative synthesis due to varied study designs and mixed methods. Results Twenty-four included studies (14 quantitative, 10 qualitative) presented data from 92 692 doctors in the UK (n=13), US (n=4), Norway (n=3), Japan (n=2), Spain (n=1), Canada (n=1). All studies identified personal needs, categorised as work-life balance, emotional regulation, self-perception and identity, and engagement with return process. Seventeen studies highlighted social needs relating to professional culture, personal and professional relationships, and illness stigma. Organisational needs found in 22 studies were flexibility and job control, work design, Occupational Health services and organisational culture. Emerging resources and recommendations were highlighted. Variable quality and high risk of biases in data collection and analysis suggest cautious interpretation. Conclusions This review posits a foundational framework of returning doctors' needs, requiring further developed through methodologically robust studies that assess the impact of length and reason for absence, before developing and evaluating tailored interventions. Organisations, training programmes and professional bodies should refine support for returning doctors based on evidence.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere053798
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2022


  • Education & training (see Medical Education & Training)
  • Health policy
  • Human resource management
  • Occupational & industrial medicine
  • Preventive medicine
  • Public health


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