Sources of work-related psychological distress experienced by UK-wide foundation and junior doctors: a qualitative study

BMJ Open. 2021 Jun 23;11(6):e043521. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2020-043521.


Objectives: This paper reports findings exploring work cultures, contexts and conditions associated with psychological distress in foundation and junior doctors.

Design: Qualitative study using in-depth interviews with 21 junior doctor participants. The interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, anonymised and imported into NVivo V.11 to facilitate data management. Data were analysed using a thematic analysis employing the constant comparative method.

Setting: NHS in England.

Participants: A purposive sample of 16 female and five male junior doctor junior doctor participants who self-identified as having stress, distress, anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts, or having attempted to kill themselves.

Results: Analysis reported four key themes: (1) workload and working conditions; (2) toxic work cultures-including abuse and bullying, sexism and racism, culture of blaming and shaming; (3) lack of support; (4) stigma and a perceived need to appear invulnerable.

Conclusion: This study highlights the need for future solutions and interventions targeted at improving work cultures and conditions. There needs to be greater recognition of the components and cumulative effects of potentially toxic workplaces and stressors intrinsic to the work of junior doctors, such as the stress of managing high workloads and lack of access to clinical and emotional support. A cultural shift is needed within medicine to more supportive and compassionate leadership and work environments, and a zero-tolerance approach to bullying, harassment and discrimination.

Keywords: education & training (see medical education & training); mental health; occupational & industrial medicine; organisation of health services; qualitative research; suicide & self-harm.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • England
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Staff, Hospital*
  • Psychological Distress*
  • Qualitative Research
  • United Kingdom