Junior doctors’ experiences of managing patients with medically unexplained symptoms: a qualitative study.

Katie Yon, Sarah Nettleton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives To explore junior doctors’ knowledge about and experiences of managing patients with medically unexplained symptoms (MUS) and to seek their recommendations for improved future training on this important topic about which they currently receive little education.

Design Qualitative study using in-depth interviews analysed using the framework method.

Setting Participants were recruited from three North Thames London hospitals within the UK.

Participants Twenty-two junior doctors undertaking the UK foundation two-year training programme (FY1/FY2).

Results The junior doctors interviewed identified a significant gap in their training on the topic of MUS, particularly in relation to their awareness of the topic, the appropriate level of investigations, possible psychological comorbidities, the formulation of suitable explanations for patients’ symptoms and longer term management strategies. Many junior doctors expressed feelings of anxiety, frustration and a self-perceived lack of competency in this area, and spoke of over-investigating patients or avoiding patient contact altogether due to the challenging nature of MUS and a difficulty in managing the accompanying uncertainty. They also identified the negative attitudes of some senior clinicians and potential role models towards patients with MUS as a factor contributing to their own attitudes and management choices. Most reported a need for more training during the foundation years, and recommended interactive case-based group discussions with a focus on providing meaningful explanations to patients for their symptoms.

Conclusions There is an urgent need to improve postgraduate training about the topics of MUS and avoiding over-investigation, as current training does not equip junior doctors with the necessary knowledge and skills to effectively and confidently manage patients in these areas. Training needs to focus on practical skill development to increase clinical knowledge in areas such as delivering suitable explanations, and to incorporate individual management strategies to help junior doctors tolerate the uncertainty associated with MUS.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberee009593
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalBMJ Open
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2015


  • medically unexplained symptoms

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