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Br J Gen Pract. 2011 Jul;61(588):e404-10. doi: 10.3399/bjgp11X583182.

Resilience among doctors who work in challenging areas: a qualitative study.

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Academic Unit of General Practice and Community Health Australian National University, Canberra, Australia.



Although physician burnout has received considerable attention, there is little research of doctors who thrive while working in challenging conditions.


To describe attitudes to work and job satisfaction among Australian primary care practitioners who have worked for more than 5 years in areas of social disadvantage.


Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 15 primary health care practitioners working in Aboriginal health, prisons, drug and alcohol medicine, or youth and refugee health. The interviews explored attitudes towards work and professional satisfaction, and strategies to promote resilience.


All doctors were motivated by the belief that helping a disadvantaged population is the 'right thing' to do. They were sustained by a deep appreciation and respect for the population they served, an intellectual engagement with the work itself, and the ability to control their own working hours (often by working part-time in the field of interest). In their clinical work, they recognised and celebrated small gains and were not overwhelmed by the larger context of social disadvantage.


If organisations want to increase the numbers of medical staff or increase the work commitment of staff in areas of social disadvantage, they should consider supporting doctors to work part-time, allowing experienced doctors to mentor them to model these patient-appreciative approaches, and reinforcing, for novice doctors, the personal and intellectual pleasures of working in these fields.

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