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Objective: This study investigated Pakistani physicians’ decision-making concerning their decisions to stay in Pakistan, migrate abroad, or resettle back into their country after working abroad.
Methods: This qualitative study employed a phenomenological research design. Thirteen Pakistani physicians characterised as ‘stayers’, ‘leavers’ and ‘resettlers’ were interviewed via telephone to explore their lived experience in 2008-2009.
Results: Results show a dynamic nature of the physicians’ career decision-making depending on their constant weighing of complex personal, family, professional and societal factors. Stayers, leavers and resettlers are not mutually exclusive groups but rather individual physicians’ can move between these groups at different stages of career and life. Physicians vary in their decision making. Stayers and resettlers place more emphasis on personal and family reasons and societal factors providing there is a permanent job for them. Leavers focus on health system problems and recent societal problems of personal and societal insecurity.
Conclusions: The findings of this study indicates that physician migration, retention and resettlement is a complex issue and there are multiple personal, social, political and economic factors that affect their decisions to stay, move abroad or resettle back into their countries. Therefore, it is recommended that future research focusing on health workers retention, migration and resettlement issues look at it from a holistic perspective rather than focusing only on the economic and professional imperatives. The findings of this study have international implications for health care managers dealing with a highly mobile international medical workforce. Strategies considering different stages of the physician career/ life cycle need to highlight the importance of identity, belonging and place as doctors weigh this with career goals.