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‘You can't be a person and a doctor’: the work–life balance of doctors in training—a qualitative study
  1. Antonia Rich1,
  2. Rowena Viney1,
  3. Sarah Needleman1,
  4. Ann Griffin2,
  5. Katherine Woolf1
  1. 1Research Department of Medical Education, UCL Medical School, Royal Free Hospital, London, UK
  2. 2Research Department of Medical Education, UCL Medical School, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Antonia Rich;{at}


Objectives Investigate the work–life balance of doctors in training in the UK from the perspectives of trainers and trainees.

Design Qualitative semistructured focus groups and interviews with trainees and trainers.

Setting Postgraduate medical training in London, Yorkshire and Humber, Kent, Surrey and Sussex, and Wales during the junior doctor contract dispute at the end of 2015. Part of a larger General Medical Council study about the fairness of postgraduate medical training.

Participants 96 trainees and 41 trainers. Trainees comprised UK graduates and International Medical Graduates, across all stages of training in 6 specialties (General Practice, Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Psychiatry, Radiology, Surgery) and Foundation.

Results Postgraduate training was characterised by work–life imbalance. Long hours at work were typically supplemented with revision and completion of the e-portfolio. Trainees regularly moved workplaces which could disrupt their personal lives and sometimes led to separation from friends and family. This made it challenging to cope with personal pressures, the stresses of which could then impinge on learning and training, while also leaving trainees with a lack of social support outside work to buffer against the considerable stresses of training. Low morale and harm to well-being resulted in some trainees feeling dehumanised. Work–life imbalance was particularly severe for those with children and especially women who faced a lack of less-than-full-time positions and discriminatory attitudes. Female trainees frequently talked about having to choose a specialty they felt was more conducive to a work–life balance such as General Practice. The proposed junior doctor contract was felt to exacerbate existing problems.

Conclusions A lack of work–life balance in postgraduate medical training negatively impacted on trainees' learning and well-being. Women with children were particularly affected, suggesting this group would benefit the greatest from changes to improve the work–life balance of trainees.

  • work-life balance
  • women
  • gender
  • medical training

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  • Contributors KW and AG designed the study in response to a tender from the General Medical Council. RV, AR and KW analysed and interpreted the data with input from AG and SN. AR wrote the first draft. She is the guarantor. All authors revised it critically for important intellectual content and approved the final version for publication. All authors agree to be accountable for all aspects of the work.

  • Funding The research was funded by the General Medical Council [Fair training pathways for all: Understanding experiences of progression (GMC299)] who were involved in designing the study, were kept informed of progress with the collection, interpretation and analysis of the data and approved this report before submission. The researchers remained independent from the funders.

  • Competing interests All authors had financial support from the General Medical Council who commissioned this research; KW receives a fee as educational consultant to the Membership of the Royal College of Physicians (UK) Examination. No authors have any other relationships or activities that could appear to have influenced the submitted work.

  • Ethics approval UCL ethics committee.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement No additional data are available.

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