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Open Access Research article

Healthcare managers in negative media focus: a qualitative study of personification processes and their personal consequences

Maria Wramsten Wilmar125, Gunnar Ahlborg34, Christian Jacobsson5 and Lotta Dellve124*

Author Affiliations

1 School of Health Sciences, University of Borås, Borås, Sweden

2 School of Technology and Health, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden

3 Institute of Stress Medicine, Västra götalandsregionen, Gothenburg, Sweden

4 Department of Public Health and Community Medicine, The Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden

5 Department of Psychology, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden

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BMC Health Services Research 2014, 14:8  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-14-8

Published: 7 January 2014



Over the last decade healthcare management and managers have increasingly been in focus in public debate. The purpose of the present study was to gain a deeper understanding of how prolonged, unfavorable media focus can influence both the individual as a person and his or her managerial practice in the healthcare organization.


In-depth interviews (n = 49) with 24 managers and their superiors, or subordinate human resources/information professionals, and partners were analyzed using a grounded theory approach.


The conceptual model explains how perceived uncertainties related to the managerial role influence personification and its negative consequences. The role ambiguities comprised challenges regarding the separation of individual identity from the professional function, the interaction with intra-organizational support and political play, and the understanding and acceptance of roles in society. A higher degree of uncertainty in role ambiguity increased both personification and the personal reaction to intense media pressure. Three types of reactions were related to the feeling of being infringed: avoidance and narrow-mindedness; being hard on self, on subordinates, and/or family members; and resignation and dejection. The results are discussed so as to elucidate the importance of support from others within the organization when under media scrutiny.


The degree of personification seems to determine the personal consequences as well as the consequences for their managerial practice. Organizational support for managers appearing in the media would probably be beneficial for both the manager and the organization.

Leadership; Media; Stress; Healthcare management