Open Access Research article

"I couldn't do this with opposition from my colleagues": A qualitative study of physicians' experiences as clinical tutors

Bernhard von Below124*, Stig Rödjer13, Mats Wahlqvist1 and Annika Billhult14

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public Health and Community Medicine/Primary Health Care, The Sahlgrenska Academy at University of Gothenburg, PO Box 454, SE-405 30 Gothenburg, Sweden

2 Floda Primary Health Care Center, Southern Älvsborg County, Rurik Holms väg, S-448 30 Floda, Sweden

3 Section of Hematology, Department of Medicine, Sahlgrenska University Hospital, S-413 45 Gothenburg, Sweden

4 Research and Development Unit, Primary Health Care, Southern Älvsborg County, Sven Eriksonsplatsen 4, plan 2, S-503 38 Borås, Sweden

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BMC Medical Education 2011, 11:79  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-11-79

Published: 5 October 2011



Clinical contact in the early curriculum and workplace learning with active tutorship are important parts of modern medical education. In a previously published study, we found that medical students' tutors experienced a heavier workload, less reasonable demands and less encouragement, than students. The aim of this interview study was to further illuminate physicians' experiences as clinical tutors.


Twelve tutors in the Early Professional Contact course were interviewed. In the explorative interviews, they were asked to reflect upon their experiences of working as tutors in this course. Systematic text condensation was used as the analysis method.


In the analysis, five main themes of physicians' experiences as clinical tutors in the medical education emerged: (a) Pleasure and stimulation. Informants appreciated tutorship and meeting both students and fellow tutors, (b) Disappointment and stagnation. Occasionally, tutors were frustrated and expressed negative feelings, (c) Demands and duty. Informants articulated an ambition to give students their best; a desire to provide better medical education but also a duty to meet demands of the course management, (d) Impact of workplace relations. Tutoring was made easier when the clinic's management provided active support and colleagues accepted students at the clinic, and (e) Multitasking difficulties. Combining several duties with those of a tutorship was often reported as difficult.


It is important that tutors' tasks are given adequate time, support and preparation. Accordingly, it appears highly important to avoid multitasking and too heavy a workload among tutors in order to facilitate tutoring. A crucial factor is acceptance and active organizational support from the clinic's management. This implies that tutoring by workplace learning in medical education should play an integrated and accepted role in the healthcare system.