Do medical specialists cope with stressors through fulfillment of basic psychological needs of self-determination theory

Int J Med Educ. 2021 Dec 3;12:245-256. doi: 10.5116/ijme.618a.463c.


Objectives: To explore factors influencing work motivation negatively and the role of the fulfillment of basic psychological needs, described by the self-determination theory of motivation, as a possible coping mechanism for medical specialists.

Methods: A qualitative study was conducted in an academic medical center in the United States. Twelve medical specialists from different disciplines were recruited through convenience, snowball, and purposive sampling and shadowed for two days each. Semi-structured interviews were conducted afterwards. Data were transcribed, and thematic analysis was used for coding. Themes were finalized through discussion and consensus.

Results: Medical specialists experience three main themes that are identified as stressors; 1) administrative tasks, so-called "administrative jungle", 2) delays and inefficiencies, and 3) poor patient outcomes. To be able to cope with these stressors, medical specialists construct different copingnarratives. Two coping narratives could be linked to autonomy: a narrative of acceptance and a narrative of reinstating autonomy. One coping narrative could be linked to relatedness: a narrative of relationships. No coping narrative could be linked to competence.

Conclusions: The results indicate that coping narratives about autonomy and relatedness are used to cope with moments of pressure, demand, or difficulty, so that patient care can continue to be the first priority. Becoming aware of these coping narratives, using them and reflecting on one's own can help medical specialists in successfully coping with stressors in their work lives. In turn, this can improve specialists wellbeing and performance for patient care as motivation remains.

Keywords: continuing professional development; coping mechanisms; medical specialist; qualitative research; self-determination theory; work motivation.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Humans
  • Medicine*
  • Motivation*
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Personal Satisfaction