Coming back from the edge: a qualitative study of a professional support unit for junior doctors

E Wainwright, F Fox, T Breffni, G Taylor, M O'Connor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Background:- It is known that many trainee doctors around the world experience work satisfaction but also considerable work stress in the training period. Such stress seems to be linked to multiple factors including workload, level of support and growing cultural inculcation into unwillingness to show any personal or professional weakness. In the United Kingdom, junior doctors are qualified medical practitioners who have gained a degree in Medicine and are now working while training to become a specialist (consultant) or a general practitioner. The period of medical training can be particularly stressful for some UK junior doctors, in common with their counterparts in other countries. UK Postgraduate Medical Deaneries provide support for those who need it via Professional Support Units (PSUs); however little is known about the perceptions and experiences of the doctors who access and utilise this support. This study aimed to generate qualitative insight into how the (PSU) provided by one UK Deanery is experienced by the trainees who accessed it. We aimed to investigate whether such experience intersects with the progressive socialisation of trainee doctors into the notion that doctors do not get ill. Methods:- Through in-depth telephone interviews with eight female junior doctors, we explored the benefits and problems associated with using a PSU with reference to the formation of trainee doctors? professional identities, and conducted a thematic analysis. Results:- Themes identified illustrate the process of accepting, accessing and benefiting from PSU support. These are: Medical identity intact (it will never happen to me); Denial of disrupted medical identity; Being on the edge: accepting help; Role of PSU in ?recovery? process; Repaired identity / coming back from the edge; Different ways to be a doctor. The gendered sample occurred simply as it was females who responded to study invitations. Whilst we present some related aspects (such as ?manning up? as part of keeping going), analyses of this small sample showed that medical identity as a doctor in training was more salient than a gendered experience of help seeking in this study. Conclusions:- This study highlights the initial reluctance of female junior doctors to seek help from the PSU, as acknowledging their own difficulties spoiled their identity as a competent doctor. However, once engaged with the PSU, the findings exemplify its role in repairing medical identity, by offering different and acceptable ways to be a doctor. We interpret these findings within Goffman?s theoretical framework of stigma conferring a spoiled identity on recipients, and how this may then be repaired. Reducing the stigma attached to initial help-seeking among junior doctors is crucial to increase ease of access to the PSU and to improve the experiences of doctors who encounter challenges during their training.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBMC Medical Education
Issue number142
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2017


  • qualitative research
  • junior doctors
  • work stress
  • occupational support


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