Resilience of primary healthcare professionals working in challenging environments: a focus group study

Catriona Matheson, Helen D Robertson, Alison M Elliott, Lisa Iversen, Peter Murchie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The modern primary healthcare workforce needs to be resilient. Early research framed professional resilience as avoiding ‘burnout’; however, more recent literature has introduced the concept of positive adaptation to professional challenges, which results in individuals thriving in their role.

Aim: To explore what primary health professionals working in challenging environments consider to be characteristics of resilience and what promotes or challenges professional resilience.

Design and setting: A qualitative focus group in north east Scotland.

Method: Five focus groups were held with 20 health professionals (six GPs, nine nurses, four pharmacists, and a practice manager) based in rural or deprived city areas in the north east of Scotland. Inductive thematic analysis identified emerging themes.

Results: Personal resilience characteristics identified were optimism, flexibility and adaptability, initiative, tolerance, organisational skills, being a team worker, keeping within professional boundaries, assertiveness, humour, and a sense of self-worth. Workplace challenges were workload, information overload, time pressures, poor communication, challenging patients, and environmental factors (rural location). Promoters of professional resilience were strong management support, teamwork, workplace buffers, and social factors such as friends, family, and leisure activities.

Conclusion: A model of health professional resilience is proposed that concurs with existing literature but adds the concept of personal traits being synergistic with workplace features and social networks. These facilitate adaptability and enable individual health professionals to cope with adversity that is inevitably part of the everyday experience of those working in challenging healthcare environments.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e507-e515
Number of pages9
JournalThe British Journal of General Practice
Issue number648
Early online date30 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2016

Bibliographical note

The research team thank all participants who attended the focus group sessions. Thanks also go to Dr Tim Jones and Dr Douglas Nicol for their help and support. The team also thank NHS Grampian Endowments for funding the study.

Funded by NHS Grampian Endowment Fund (reference 12/42).


  • primary care
  • resilience, psychological
  • health professionals
  • multiple deprivation
  • rurality
  • qualitative research


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