A Scoping Review on the Concept of Physician Caring

David S. Burstein*, Faith Svigos, Akash Patel, Neha K. Reddy, Kelly N. Michelson, Linda C. O’Dwyer, Mark Linzer, Jeffrey A. Linder, David Victorson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background: Physicians’ interest in the health and well-being of their patients is a tenet of medical practice. Physicians’ ability to act upon this interest by caring for and about their patients is central to high-quality clinical medicine and may affect burnout. To date, a strong theoretical and empirical understanding of physician caring does not exist. To establish a practical, evidence-based approach to improve health care delivery and potentially address physician burnout, we sought to identify and synthesize existing conceptual models, frameworks, and definitions of physician caring. Methods: We performed a scoping review on physician caring. In November 2019 and September 2020, we searched PubMed MEDLINE, Embase, PsycINFO, CINAHL, and CENTRAL Register of Controlled Trials to identify conceptual models, frameworks, and definitions of physician caring. Eligible articles involved discussion or study of care or caring among medical practitioners. We created a content summary and performed thematic analysis of extracted data. Results: Of 11,776 articles, we reviewed the full text of 297 articles; 61 articles met inclusion criteria. Commonly identified concepts referenced Peabody’s “secret of care” and the ethics of care. In bioethics, caring is described as a virtue. Contradictions exist among concepts of caring, such as whether caring is an attitude, emotion, or behavior, and the role of relationship development. Thematic analysis of all concepts and definitions identified six aspects of physician caring: (1) relational aspects, (2) technical aspects, (3) physician attitudes and characteristics, (4) agency, (5) reciprocity, and (6) physician self-care. Discussion: Caring is instrumental to clinical medicine. However, scientific understanding of what constitutes caring from physicians is limited by contradictions across concepts. A unifying concept of physician caring does not yet exist. This review proposes six aspects of physician caring which can be used to develop evidence-based approaches to improve health care delivery and potentially mitigate physician burnout.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of general internal medicine
StatePublished - Sep 2022


  • burnout
  • caring
  • physician-patient relationships
  • purpose
  • wellness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


Dive into the research topics of 'A Scoping Review on the Concept of Physician Caring'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this