Background: The level of participation in research by GPs is low internationally. Previous reports of the reasons why practitioners decline opportunities for research participation have tended to recount the barriers that they describe as if they are objective accounts.
Objective: By theoretical sampling of practitioners who had declined to participate in a research trial, we sought to interpret the functional significance and interrelationship of the barriers that they reported.
Methods: Twenty-three GPs who had declined to participate in a trial of training to manage medically unexplained symptoms were interviewed and their accounts analysed interpretatively.
Results: The practitioners described general practice and research as alien fields. Research lacked intrinsic, clinical or professional value and was linked to evidence-based medicine which they rejected as incompatible with person-centered care. Every doctor described a lack of time for research, but time was an elastic resource that payment could release from the reservoir of their 'own time'.
Conclusion: The findings should inform the design and interpretation of future quantitative surveys to identify how common the attitudes that we report are. Doctors with the attitudes of those whom we interviewed will not be drawn into research by measures predicated on the assumption that it is intrinsically, clinically or professionally valuable. If they cannot be convinced of its utility, value could be conferred by payment for participation.