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Health (London). 2012 Nov;16(6):569-84. doi: 10.1177/1363459312438565. Epub 2012 Mar 7.

'I deal with the small things': the doctor-patient relationship and professional identity in GPs' stories of cancer care.

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University of Tromsø, Norway.


An important part of GPs' work consists of attending to the everyday and existential conditions of human being. In these life world aspects, biomedicine is often not the relevant theory to guide the GP; nevertheless they are a part of GPs' professional domain. In cancer care, previous studies have shown that GPs with a biomedical perspective on medicine could feel subordinate to specialists, and that doctors with a curative focus could see disease progression as a personal failure. The aim of this study was to explore in depth the experiences of being a GP for people with advanced cancer. Fourteen Norwegian GPs were interviewed about accompanying patients through a cancer illness. Their stories were analysed using a narrative approach. The GPs expressed a strong commitment to these patients, a loyalty which in some cases could be weakened due to judgements of distant specialists. In view of the GPs' close knowledge of their patients' background and history this subordination was a paradox, mirroring a hierarchy of medical knowledge. The GPs had an ideal of honesty and openness about death, which they sometimes failed. To reach the ideal of honesty, clinicians would have to abandon the biomedical ideal of mastering human nature through interventions and acknowledge the fundamental uncertainty and finiteness of human life. GPs may learn from being with their patients that bodily and existential suffering are connected, and thus learn implicitly to overlook the body-mind dualism. This practical wisdom lacks a theoretical anchoring, which is a problem not only for general practice.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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