Background: It is generally accepted that there is a therapist effect in psychotherapy, with master therapists being studied using qualitative methods. There are surgeons with exceptionally positive patients' physical health outcomes, and qualitative research on what makes good doctors. However, characteristics of exceptionally good doctors are less studied and understood.
Objective: To qualitatively study the opinions of physicians on exceptionally good doctors.
Methods: Thirteen semi-structured interviews of English-speaking medical doctors of any specialty were conducted. Recruitment was achieved through the authors’ network; contacting authors of relevant research papers; and Bond University’s General Practitioner recruitment program. Their opinion was sought on what makes an exceptionally good doctor, whether they have met such a person, what was their experience of that person, and whether they consider themselves as exceptionally good doctors.
Analysis: A six-phase thematic analysis in an experiential framework, as per Braun and Clarke, was implemented to identify themes and their details in an inductive approach with a realist epistemological position, ie, assuming truthful knowledge on what makes exceptionally good doctors can be obtained.
Results: Each interviewee had met and been inspired by exceptionally good doctors. Descriptions covered six themes: character traits; other characteristics; patient relationships; peer and health care system relations; education; and treatment examples. Exceptionally good doctors were found to have up-to-date extensive medical knowledge and skills, relate well with patients, and have excellent diagnostic abilities. They tend to be humble, approachable, inspiring, and are long-remembered role models. However, they may not always be appreciated by their peers and their health care system because of their exceptional abilities.
Discussion and Conclusion: Exceptional doctors are beneficial for their peers, their patients, and their health care system. Identifying, acknowledging, and making such doctors more accessible to medical students and junior doctors could have a positive impact on medical practice.