Perceptions of specialists in the public sector, on the role and value of family medicine

S Afr Fam Pract (2004). 2022 Nov 9;64(1):e1-e7. doi: 10.4102/safp.v64i1.5628.


Background: Family medicine (FM) is often perceived to be a 'lesser' speciality compared with other disciplines, despite its importance as a generalist discipline in the healthcare system. Family physicians (FPs) provide comprehensive care at the district level and act as a gatekeeper for patient's upward referral to other specialists. This study aimed to explore the perceptions of healthcare specialists other than FPs involved in registrar training regarding FM at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa (SA).

Methods: This was a qualitative study, with seven consultants, other than FPs, who worked at three public sector regional hospitals using purposive sampling. Individual semistructured interviews were conducted, audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim and analysed thematically.

Results: Four themes emerged (perception of FM as a medical speciality, role of FPs in the healthcare system and proposed National Health Insurance, FM registrars rotating in units and the scope of their training and how to improve the perceptions of FM by other specialities). Family medicine was regarded as a major and relevant specialist field with a significant contribution to make in advancing patients' care. The country's healthcare system is yet to make the best use of the FM specialist's role in improving quality of care.

Conclusion: The perceptions of FM from other specialists were generally positive and reinforced its importance in facilitating improved healthcare in SA. These specialists have high regard for FM and emphasised the large responsibility of practitioners.

Keywords: Family medicine; discipline; family physician; family specialist; perception; specialist; specialist discipline.

MeSH terms

  • Comprehensive Health Care
  • Family Practice*
  • Hospitals, Public
  • Humans
  • Physicians, Family
  • Public Sector*