Background and purpose: Due to a--depending on the region--already existent or predicted lack of general practitioners, the German health care is confronted with a serious problem. Besides the political general conditions and problems regarding the vocational training, social changes can influence the attractiveness of general practitioners' profession, thereby possibly also effecting a lack of young general practitioners. The aim of this study was to explore, which image exists of general practitioners' profession from their viewpoint and which social developments influence their image.
Method: A qualitative study was undertaken by interviewing 16 general practitioners in their practices or in the Department of General Practice and Health Service Research, University Hospital of Heidelberg, Germany.
Results: From the general practitioners' point of view, the image they have is positive in people from rural districts and the elder generation, but negative in younger people and urbanites. The image is influenced by the following social changes: declining social competencies, obligation and responsibility, an increasing distance to illness and sick persons as well as an increasing flexibility.
Conclusion: Since particularly younger people have a negative opinion of general practitioners and young physicians belong to that target group, the subject general medicine might be less attractive to trainees. That is why the general practitioner is not perceived as a professional future perspective. Social changes influencing the choice of career should increasingly be considered as a starting point for the development of approaches directed against the lack of trainees in general medicine.