'Everything was just getting worse and worse': Deteriorating job quality as a driver of doctor emigration from Ireland

N. Humphries*, A. M. McDermott, E. Conway, J. P. Byrne, L. Prihodova, R. Costello, A. Matthews

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Medicine is a high-status, high-skill occupation which has traditionally provided access to good quality jobs and relatively high salaries. In Ireland, historic underfunding combined with austerity-related cutbacks has negatively impacted job quality to the extent that hospital medical jobs have begun to resemble extreme jobs. Extreme jobs combine components of a good quality job - high pay, high job control, challenging demands, with those of a low-quality job - long working hours, heavy workloads. Deteriorating job quality and the normalisation of extreme working is driving doctor emigration from Ireland and deterring return. Methods: Semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with 40 Irish emigrant doctors in Australia who had emigrated from Ireland since 2008. Interviews were held in July-August 2018. Results: Respondents reflected on their experiences of working in the Irish health system, describing hospital workplaces that were understaffed, overstretched and within which extreme working had become normalised, particularly in relation to long working hours, fast working pace, doing more with less and fighting a climate of negativity. Drawing on Hirschman's work on exit, voice and loyalty (1970), the authors consider doctor emigration as exit and present respondent experiences of voice prior to emigration. Only 14/40 respondent emigrant doctors intend to return to work in Ireland. Discussion: The deterioration in medical job quality and the normalisation of extreme working is a key driver of doctor emigration from Ireland, and deterring return. Irish trained hospital doctors emigrate to access good quality jobs in Australia and are increasingly likely to remain abroad once they have secured them. To improve doctor retention, health systems and employers must mitigate a gainst the emergence of extreme work in healthcare. Employee voice (about working conditions, about patient safety, etc.) should be encouraged and used to inform health system improvement and to mitigate exit.

Original languageEnglish
Article number97
Number of pages11
JournalHuman Resources for Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 9 Dec 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Author(s).


  • Austerity
  • Extreme work
  • Job quality
  • Medicine
  • Migration
  • Qualitative


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