Learning or leaving? An international qualitative study of factors affecting the resilience of female family doctors

Alice Shiner, Jessica Watson, Noemi Doohan, Amanda Howe

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3 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: Many countries have insufficient numbers of family doctors, and more females than males leave the workforce at a younger age or have difficulty sustaining careers. Understanding the differing attitudes, pressures, and perceptions between genders toward their medical occupation is important to minimise workforce attrition. Aim: To explore factors influencing the resilience of female family doctors during lifecycle transitions. Design & setting: International qualitative study with female family doctors from all world regions. Method: Twenty semi-structured online Skype interviews, followed by three focus groups to develop recommendations. Data were transcribed and analysed using applied framework analysis. Results: Interview participants described a complex interface between competing demands, expectations of their gender, and internalised expectations of themselves. Systemic barriers, such as lack of flexible working, excessive workload, and the cumulative impacts of unrealistic expectations impaired the ability to fully contribute in the workplace. At the individual level, resilience related to: the ability to make choices; previous experiences that had encouraged self-confidence; effective engagement to obtain support; and the ability to handle negative experiences. External support, such as strong personal networks, and an adaptive work setting and organisation or system maximised interviewees’ professional contributions. Conclusion: On an international scale, female family doctors experience similar pressures from competing demands during lifecycle transitions; some of which relate to expectations of the female's ’role’ in society, particularly around the additional personal pressures of caring commitments. Such situations could be predicted, planned for, and mitigated with explicit support mechanisms and availability of workplace choices. Healthcare organisations and systems around the world should recognise this need and implement recommendations to help reduce workforce losses. These findings are likely to be of interest to all health professional staff of any gender.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberbjgpopen20X101017
JournalBJGP Open
Issue number1
Early online date17 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2020


  • Family practice
  • Health workforce
  • Primary health care
  • Resilience
  • Transition
  • Women

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