Background and study aims: The Royal College of General Practitioners has designed its Fellowship by Assessment (FBA) programme with the twin goals of promoting higher standards of care and offering GPs a professional challenge. By November 2000, 223 eligible doctors (2%) had opted to take FBA. This number is increasing annually. There is, however, little research to account for why GPs undertake it, or what the barriers might be. The aim of our study was to investigate GPs' experience and thinking on this issue.
Methods: A total of 13 GPs who had attained Fellowship by Assessment in the Tamar and Severn Faculties were invited to participate in a qualitative study. They were identified from the list of RCGP Fellows in the Institute of General Practice, University of Exeter, and purposefully selected to include trainers and non-trainers, men and women, rural and urban practitioners, and single-handed and large practices. Analysis of in-depth interviews was informed by grounded theory.
Findings: FBA served to acknowledge high standards of care. There was some variation in views about FBA, however, ranging from a perspective which prized the professional award, to the view that endorsed it as a pragmatic and useful way of structuring and monitoring improvements. Fellowship by Assessment improves the care of patients and empowers the doctors by improving their confidence. It is, however, hugely time-consuming and while our findings suggest it should be encouraged, there is a need for ways to be found whereby doctors may be supported in this form of professional development.