What happens when doctors are patients? Qualitative study of GPs

Fiona Fox, Michael Harris*, Gordon Taylor, Karen Rodham, Jane Sutton, Brian Robinson, Jenny Scott

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Current evidence about the experiences of doctors who are unwell is limited to poor quality data. Aim: To investigate GPs' experiences of significant illness, and how this affects their own subsequent practice. Design of study: Qualitative study using interpretative phenomenological analysis to conduct and analyse semi-structured interviews with GPs who have experienced significant illness. Setting: Two primary care trusts in the West of England. Method: A total of 17 GPs were recruited to take part in semi-structured interviews which were conducted and analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis Results: Four main categories emerged from the data. The category, 'Who cares when doctors are ill?' embodies the tension between perceptions of medicine as a 'caring profession' and as a 'system'. 'Being a doctor-patient' covers the role ambiguity experienced by doctors who experience significant illness. The category 'Treating doctor-patients' reveals the fragility of negotiating shared medical care. 'Impact on practice' highlights ways in which personal illness can inform GPs' understanding of being a patient and their own consultation style. Conclusion: Challenging the culture of immunity to illness among GPs may require interventions at both individual and organisational levels. Training and development of doctors should include opportunities to consider personal health issues as well as how to cope with role ambiguity when being a patient and when treating doctor-patients. Guidelines about being and treating doctor-patients need to be developed, and GPs need easy access to an occupational health service.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)811-818
Number of pages8
JournalBritish Journal of General Practice
Issue number568
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2009


  • Doctor-patients
  • General practitioners
  • Qualitative interview

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