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GP motivation is not financial, finds research

by Emily Roberts
12 June 2023

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Money isn’t the main motivation for many GPs, a new study has revealed, a factor that could be used to help retain and recruit doctors during a workforce crisis, as well as improve patient care.

The study in the BJGP also suggests the finding could be essential for ensuring the wellbeing of GPs.

The research is thought to be the first to map doctors’ motivation using four motivational components, the study authors said.  It is based on the responses of 1,152 GPs who completed the Danish GP work life survey sent to all Danish GPs in 2019.

Although the study was carried out in Denmark, the results are said to be relevant to GPs in high-income countries with health systems that follow the Beveridge model (the model the NHS is designed on) such as the UK and Norway.  

The study identifies five ‘classes’ of GPs with different work motivations. These are:

  • It is less about the money (53.2%)
  • It is about ‘everything’ (26.5%)
  • It is about helping others (8.5%)
  • It is about the work  (8.2%)
  • It is about the money and the patient (3.5%).

The authors of the study said: ‘Understanding GPs’ motivation could help ensure GPs’ wellbeing and solve issues with GP shortages and quality of care.

‘If decision-makers include this knowledge in their planning of general practice, they may reduce GP shortages by retaining or recruiting GPs.’

The finding that ‘it is not all about the money’ for many GPs might explain why financial incentives for GPs do not always work, they also said. They suggested that using a mix of financial and non-financial incentives to influence GPs could be more effective.

The study focused on four key dimensions of motivation that may influence GPs’ wellbeing and behaviour.  These are extrinsic motivation (EM), intrinsic motivation (IM), user orientation (UO), and public service motivation (PSM).

EM and IM are so-called ‘self-centred’ motivations, with individuals responding either to ‘tangible incentives’ such as money or because of a genuine interest and enjoyment in the work.

UO and PSM are motivations that reflect a desire to benefit others, relating to the concept of altruism.

However, what motivates doctors remains an understudied area, the authors admitted. They called for more research to further investigate how various types of incentives link to GP care and their different motivations.