“Family doctors are also people”: a qualitative analysis of how family physicians managed competing personal and professional responsibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Publication date: Mar 04, 2024

Family physicians (FPs) fill an essential role in public health emergencies yet have frequently been neglected in pandemic response plans. This exclusion harms FPs in their clinical roles and has unintended consequences in the management of concurrent personal responsibilities, many of which were amplified by the pandemic. The objective of our study was to explore the experiences of FPs during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic to better understand how they managed their competing professional and personal priorities. We conducted semi-structured interviews with FPs from four Canadian regions between October 2020 and June 2021. Employing a maximum variation sampling approach, we recruited participants until we achieved saturation. Interviews explored FPs’ personal and professional roles and responsibilities during the pandemic, the facilitators and barriers that they encountered, and any gender-related experiences. Transcribed interviews were thematically analysed. We interviewed 68 FPs during the pandemic and identified four overarching themes in participants’ discussion of their personal experiences: personal caregiving responsibilities, COVID-19 risk navigation to protect family members, personal health concerns, and available and desired personal supports for FPs to manage their competing responsibilities. While FPs expressed a variety of ways in which their personal experiences made their professional responsibilities more complicated, rarely did that affect the extent to which they participated in the pandemic response. For FPs to contribute fully to a pandemic response, they must be factored into pandemic plans. Failure to appreciate their unique role and circumstances often leaves FPs feeling unsupported in both their professional and personal lives. Comprehensive planning in anticipation of future pandemics must consider FPs’ varied responsibilities, health concerns, and necessary precautions. Having adequate personal and practice supports in place will facilitate the essential role of FPs in responding to a pandemic crisis while continuing to support their patients’ primary care needs.

Concepts Keywords
Canadian COVID-19
Doctors Family physicians
June Pandemic
October Personal responsibilities
Pandemic Primary care
Professional responsibilities


Type Source Name
disease MESH COVID-19 pandemic
disease MESH emergencies
drug DRUGBANK Tropicamide

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