Understanding the transition from resident to attending physician: a transdisciplinary, qualitative study

Acad Med. 2010 Dec;85(12):1914-9. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3181fa2913.


Purpose: There is a paucity of research into the processes surrounding the transition from residency to the position of attending physician. This report retrospectively investigates the question: Are attending physicians adequately prepared and trained to perform the tasks and duties of their new position? This study aimed at formulating a conceptual framework that captures the transition and is applicable beyond discipline- or location-specific boundaries.

Method: Individual semistructured interviews were conducted and analyzed using a qualitative, grounded theory approach. Between January and May 2009, 14 physicians were interviewed who had commenced an attending post in internal medicine or obstetrics-gynecology between six months and two years earlier, within the Netherlands. Interviews focused on the attendings' perceptions of the transition, their socialization within the new organization, and the preparation they had received during residency training. The interview transcripts were openly coded, and through constant comparison, themes emerged. The research team discussed the results until full agreement was reached.

Results: A conceptual framework emerged from the data, consisting of three themes interacting in a longitudinal process. The framework describes how novel disruptive elements (first theme) due to the transition from resident to attending physician are perceived and acted on (second theme), and how this directs new attendings' personal development (third theme).

Conclusions: The conceptual framework finds support in transition psychology and notions from organizational socialization literature. It provides insight into the transition from resident to attending physician that can inform measures to smooth the intense transition.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Communication
  • Humans
  • Internal Medicine / education*
  • Internship and Residency / methods*
  • Interprofessional Relations*
  • Medical Staff, Hospital / education*
  • Netherlands
  • Physicians / standards*
  • Professional Competence*
  • Qualitative Research*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires