Half of the graduating medical students or fellows trained in Illinois are leaving the state to practice medicine elsewhere, frequently in bordering states, according to a study conducted by researchers at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

The 2010 Illinois New Physician Workforce Study questioned 561 graduating students and fellows, and found that 49% intended to leave the state to practice. While the primary reason given was “overall practice opportunities,” the malpractice liability environment was frequently cited as a problem with Illinois.

Early this year, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that caps on malpractice damages were unconstitutional and struck down laws limiting malpractice awards. As a result, malpractice insurance rates have increased in the state, and health care practitioners perceive Illinois to be a hostile malpractice environment.

Survey respondents were asked if they were familiar with the Supreme Court decision, and to what extent it affected their decision as to where to practice. “The majority who were planning to practice outside of Illinois indicated that the decision affirms their decision to leave the state and reinforces the negative environment they believe exists due to a lack of tort reform, high medical malpractice premiums, a litigious environment and what they perceive to be a state legal profession that is anti-physician,” the researchers wrote. “Several respondents explained that the litigious environment in Illinois has created a new defensive way of practicing medicine that is no longer focused on the best interests of the patient but rather on avoiding liability by the provider. Many of the new physicians do not wish to practice in what they refer to as a hostile environment.”

The researchers warn that this could lead to a shortage of physicians in the state in the future, especially in rural areas.  

The study identified opportunities for lawmakers to improve the outlook for physicians in Illinois. In particular, the recommendations included:

  •        Create an Illinois Physician Workforce Institute to collect and analyze data on physicians;
  •        Continue to fight for medical malpractice tort reform;
  •        Develop strategies to retain Illinois residents and fellows;
  •        Centralize the Illinois physician job search and recruitment process;
  •        Promote physician opportunities in rural communities.