Original Research

Roles and challenges of family physicians in Uganda: A qualitative study

Innocent K. Besigye, Jude Onyango, Fred Ndoboli, Vincent Hunt, Cynthia Haq, Jane Namatovu
African Journal of Primary Health Care & Family Medicine | Vol 11, No 1 | a2009 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/phcfm.v11i1.2009 | © 2019 Innocent Kabahena Besigye | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 10 December 2018 | Published: 29 October 2019

About the author(s)

Innocent K. Besigye, Department of Family Medicine, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda
Jude Onyango, Department of Family Medicine, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda
Fred Ndoboli, Department of Family Medicine, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda
Vincent Hunt, Department of Family Medicine, The Warren Alpert Medical School, Brown University, United States; and, Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, The University of Minnesota Medical School, Champlin, Minnesota, United States
Cynthia Haq, Department of Family Medicine, University of California, Irvine, California, United States
Jane Namatovu, Department of Family Medicine, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda


Background: The World Health report (2008), the World Health Assembly (2009) and the Declaration of Astana (2018) acknowledge the significant contribution of family physicians (FPs) in clinical and primary healthcare. Given the lack of resources and low numbers of FPs coupled with the contextual nature of family medicine (FM), the scope of practice of African FPs is likely to differ from that of colleagues in America and Europe. Thus, this study explored the roles of Ugandan FPs and the challenges they face.

Methods: This cross-sectional qualitative study was conducted through in-depth interviews with FPs who are working in Uganda. Participants who work in public and private healthcare systems including non-governmental organisations and in all geographical regions were purposively selected. Interviews were conducted from July 2016 to June 2017. Qualitative thematic content analysis of the transcripts was performed using a framework approach.

Results: The study team identified three and six thematic roles and challenges, respectively, from the interview transcripts. The roles were clinician, leadership and teaching and learning. Challenges included lack of common identity, low numbers of FPs, conflicting roles, unrealistic expectations, poor organisational infrastructure and lack of incentives.

Conclusion: The major roles of FPs in Uganda are similar to those of their counterparts in other parts of the world. Family physicians provide clinical care for patients, including preventive and curative services; providing leadership, management and mentorship to clinical teams; and teaching and learning. However, their roles are exercised differently as a result of lack of proper institutionalisation of FM within the Uganda health system. Family physicians in Uganda have found many opportunities to contribute to healthcare leadership, education and service, but have not yet found a stable niche within the healthcare system.


family medicine; family physician; family practice; primary care; roles; challenges


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Crossref Citations

1. The state of family medicine training programmes within the Primary Care and Family Medicine Education network
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African Journal of Primary Health Care & Family Medicine  vol: 12  issue: 1  year: 2020  
doi: 10.4102/phcfm.v12i1.2588