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What general practitioners find satisfying in their work: Implications for health care system reform

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Carl May


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PURPOSE: We sought to explore general practitioners' satisfaction with their patient visits and the congruity between this satisfaction and new models of practice, such as those implicit in the new general medical services contract in the United Kingdom. METHODS: We undertook a qualitative study using audio recordings of patient visits and in-depth interviews with 19 general practitioners in Lothian, Scotland. RESULTS: Doctors' reports of satisfying and unsatisfying experiences during consultations were primarily concerned with developing and maintaining relationships rather than with the technical aspects of diagnosis and treatment. In their most satisfying consultations, they used the interpersonal aspects of care, in particular their sense of knowing the patient, to effect a successful outcome. Success was seen in holistic terms - not as the prevention, treatment, or cure of a disease, but as restorative of the person. Positive experiences were implicated in maintaining their identity as "good" doctors. Negative experiences sometimes challenged this identity, and doctors resisted this challenge by finding explanations for unsatisfactory experiences that distanced themselves from their source or cause. CONCLUSION: The attributes of a satisfying encounter found in this study derive from a model of practice that prioritizes the distress of patients, which cannot be measured, above the technical and quantifiable in diagnosis and treatment. Preoccupation with that which is technical and measurable in health care system reforms risks defining a model of practice with purpose and meaning not congruent with doctors' experiences of their work and may result in further destruction of professional morale.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Fairhurst K, May C

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Annals of Family Medicine

Year: 2006

Volume: 4

Issue: 6

Pages: 500-505

ISSN (print): 1544-1709

ISSN (electronic): 1544-1717

Publisher: Annals of Family Medicine, Inc.


DOI: 10.1370/afm.565

PubMed id: 17148627


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