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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Self-prescribing among young Norwegian doctors: a nine-year follow-up study of a nationwide sample

Erlend Hem*, Guro Stokke, Reidar Tyssen, Nina T Grønvold, Per Vaglum and Øivind Ekeberg

Author Affiliations

Department of Behavioural Sciences in Medicine, Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, University of Oslo, PO Box 1111 Blindern, NO-0317 Oslo, Norway

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BMC Medicine 2005, 3:16  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-3-16

Published: 21 October 2005



Self-prescribing among doctors is common, but no longitudinal studies have documented this issue. We studied the self-prescribing behaviour among young Norwegian physicians and the predictors of self-prescribing.


We conducted a nationwide, prospective and longitudinal study following young Norwegian physicians from internship through the subsequent nine years using three postal questionnaires. Chi-square tests and logistic regression models were applied.


About 54% of the physicians in their fourth and ninth postgraduate years had self-prescribed medication at least once during the previous year. Among those who had used prescription medication during the previous year, about 90% had self-prescribed. Self-prescribing behaviour did not differ significantly between men and women, or according to the type of work at any time. The most frequently self-prescribed medications were antibiotics (71%–81%), contraceptives (24%–25%), analgesics (18%–21%), and hypnotics (9%–12%). Those who had needed treatment for mental problems had self-prescribed hypnotics and sedatives to a greater extent than the others. Being male, having self-prescribed during internship, somatic complaints, mental distress, subjective health complaints, and not having sought help from a general practitioner, were significant adjusted predictors of self-prescribing in the ninth postgraduate year.


The level of self-prescribing among young Norwegian physicians is relatively high, and this behaviour is established early in their professional lives. Although self-prescribing is acceptable in some situations, physicians should seek professional help for illness. Efforts to inculcate more rational help-seeking behaviour should probably start in medical schools.