What’s up doc? Physicians’ reflections on their sustainable employability throughout careers: a narrative inquiry

Iris van de Voort*, Irene Grossmann, Ian Leistikow, Jan Willem Weenink

*Corresponding author for this work

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Background: Physicians have complex and demanding jobs that may negatively affect their sustainable employability (SE) and quality of care. Despite its societal and occupational relevance, empirical research on physicians’ SE is scarce. To further advance our understanding of physicians’ SE, this study explores how physicians perceive their employment context to affect their SE, how physicians self-regulate with the intent to sustain their employability, and how self-regulations affect physicians’ SE and their employment context. Methods: Twenty Dutch physicians from different specialisms were narratively interviewed between March and September 2021 by a researcher with a similar background (surgeon) to allow participants to speak in their own jargon. The interviews were analyzed collaboratively by the research team in accordance with theory-led thematic analysis. Results: According to the interviewees, group dynamics, whether positive or negative, and (mis)matches between personal professional standards and group norms on professionalism, affect their SE in the long run. Interviewees self-regulate with the intent to sustain their employability by (I) influencing work; (II) influencing themselves; and (III) influencing others. Interviewees also reflect on long-term, unintended, and dysfunctional consequences of their self-regulations. Conclusions: We conclude that physicians’ SE develops from the interplay between the employment context in which they function and their self-regulations intended to sustain employability. As self-regulations may unintentionally contribute to dysfunctional work practices in the employment context, there is a potential for a vicious cycle. Insights from this study can be used to understand and appraise how physicians self-regulate to face complex challenges at work and to prevent both dysfunctional work practices that incite self-regulation and dysfunctional consequences resulting from self-regulations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number539
JournalBmc Health Services Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2024

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Publisher Copyright: © The Author(s) 2024.


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