Physicians reentering clinical practice: Characteristics and clinical abilities

Department of Family Medicine, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Denver, CO, USA.
Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions (Impact Factor: 1.36). 12/2011; 31(1):49-55. DOI: 10.1002/chp.20106
Source: PubMed


Limited information exists to describe physicians who return to practice after absences from patient care. The Center for Personalized Education for Physicians (CPEP) is an independent, not-for-profit organization that provides clinical competency assessment and educational programs for physicians, including those reentering practice. This article studies the medical licensure status, performance, and correlates between physician characteristics and performance on initial assessment.
Sixty-two physicians who left practice voluntarily and without discipline or sanction and who were returning to practice in the same discipline as their previous practice participated in the CPEP reentry program. Physicians completed an objective clinical skills assessment including clinical interviews by specialty-matched board-certified physicians, simulated patient encounters, a documentation exercise, and a cognitive function screen. Physicians were rated from 1 (no or limited educational needs) to 4 (global, pervasive deficits). Performance scores were compared based on select physician characteristics.
Twenty-five (40.3%) participants were female; participants' average age was 53.7 years (female 48.1 years; male 57.5 years). Physicians left practice for family issues (30.6%), health issues (27.4%), retirement or nonmedical career change (17.7%), and change to medical administration (14.5%). Females were more likely than males to have left practice for child rearing (P < 0.0001). Approximately one-quarter (24.2%) of participants achieved a performance rating of 1 (best-performing group); 35.5% achieved a rating of 2; 33% achieved a rating of 3; 6.5% achieved a rating of 4 (worst-performing group). Years out of practice and increasing physician age predicted poorer performance (P = 0.0403, P = 0.0440). A large proportion of physicians presenting without an active license achieved active licensure; how many of these physicians actually returned to practice is not known.
Physicians who leave practice are a heterogeneous group. Most participants' performance warranted some formal education; few demonstrated global educational needs. The data from this study justify mandates that physicians demonstrate competence through an objective testing process prior to returning to practice. Emerging patterns regarding the performance of the reentering physician may help guide future policy.

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