The social identity of hospital consultants as managers

J Health Organ Manag. 2010;24(3):220-36. doi: 10.1108/14777261011054581.


Purpose: This paper aims to explore hospital consultants' social identification, in terms of perceptions of their position in society, the salient targets for their social identification and how this appears to influence their perceptions of management activities and change.

Design/methodology/approach: A purposeful sample of 15 hospital consultants from a wide range of specialities and work locations in Ireland were recruited. Semi-structured, in-depth interviews were undertaken and thematic analysis was used to interpret the interview data.

Findings: The paper finds that all interviewees perceived public attitudes towards hospital consultants, as a group, to be negative. Twelve interviewees derived most sense of belonging from group membership within their immediate work area. These groups seemed to represent sources of validation and esteem and enabled consultants to exercise control over their work. Many consultants, however, described a sense of detachment from their employing health boards. Management, as a salient target for social group identification, was perceived as associated with powerlessness and lack of respect. Interviewees generally viewed involvement in management with little enthusiasm and considerable caution.

Practical implications: This paper shows that management approaches to hospital consultants could benefit from awareness that their social identity may already be under threat. Assaults on core professional values in the communication surrounding change are likely to provoke resistance. Existing work groups, with which consultants identify, could serve as a less threatening means to engage them with issues of cost and quality than externally imposed structures.

Originality/value: This paper informs ways in which hospital consultants could be more successfully involved in health service management.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Consultants / psychology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Hospital-Physician Relations*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Ireland
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Public Opinion
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Social Identification*
  • State Medicine / organization & administration*
  • Workplace