Research Articles

The bird’s-eye perspective: how do district health managers experience the impact of family physicians within the South African district health system? A qualitative study

Klaus B Von Pressentin, Robert J Mash, L Baldwin-Ragaven, R P G Botha, I Govender, W J Steinberg
South African Family Practice | Vol 60, No 1 : January/February| a4844 | DOI: | ©
Submitted: 17 March 2018 | Published:

About the author(s)

Klaus B Von Pressentin, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
Robert J Mash, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
L Baldwin-Ragaven, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
R P G Botha, University of Pretoria, South Africa
I Govender, Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, South Africa
W J Steinberg, University of the Free State, South Africa

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Background: Health policy-makers in Africa are looking for local solutions to strengthen primary care teams. A South African national position paper (2015) described six aspirational roles of family physicians (FPs) working within the district health system. However, the actual contributions of FPs are unclear at present, and evidence is required as to how this cadre may be able to strengthen health systems.

Methods: Using semi-structured interviews, this study sought to obtain the views of South African district health managers regarding the impact made by FPs within their districts on health system performance, clinical processes and health outcomes.

Results: A number of benefits of FPs to the health system in South Africa were confirmed, including: their ability to enhance the functionality of the local health system by increasing access to a more comprehensive and coordinated health service, and by improving clinical services delivered through clinical care, capacitating the local health team and facilitating clinical governance activities.

Conclusions: District managers confirmed the importance of all six roles of the FP and expressed both direct and indirect ways in which FPs contribute to strengthening health systems’ performance and clinical outcomes. FPs were seen as important clinical leaders within the district healthcare team. Managers recognised the need to support newly appointed FPs to clarify their roles within the healthcare team and to mature across all their roles. This study supports the employment of FPs at scale within the South African district health system according to the national position paper on family medicine.

(Full text of the research articles are available online at

S Afr Fam Pract 2018; DOI: 10.1080/20786190.2017.1348047


family physicians; healthcare system; primary health care; healthcare team; leadership


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