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What makes for a ‘Top Doc’? An analysis of UK press portrayals of so-called top doctors


Objective To determine the characteristics of medical practitioners designated ‘top doctor’ or ‘Top Doc’ in the UK press.

Design Observational study of news stories related to the term top doctor (or Top Doc) with analysis using data from publicly available databases.

Setting News reports in the UK press accessed via a database from national newspapers from 1 January 2019 to 31 December 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Stories relating to disciplinary/criminal matters were analysed separately.

Main outcome measures Results were cross-referenced with the General Medical Council register of medical practitioners for gender, year of qualification, whether on the general practitioner (GP) or the specialist register, and if on the specialist register, which specialty.

Results There was a gender divide, with 80% of so-called top doctors being male. National top doctors had been qualified for a median time of 31 years. Top doctors are widely spread among specialties; 21% of top doctors were on the GP register. Officers of the British Medical Association and the various Royal Colleges are also well represented. ‘Top doctors’ facing disciplinary proceedings are more overwhelmingly male, working in hospital specialties and less obviously eminent in their field.

Conclusion There is no clear definition of a ‘top doctor’, nor are there objective leadership criteria for journalists to use when applying this label. Establishing a definition of ‘top doctor’, for instance, via the UK Faculty for Medical Leadership and Management, which offers postnominals and accreditation for high-achieving medical professionals, may reduce subjectivity.

  • clinical leadership
  • engagement
  • leadership assessment
  • medical leadership
  • professional societies

Data availability statement

Data are available on reasonable request.

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