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Doctors as managers: moving towards general management? The case of unitary management reform in Norwegian hospitals

Tone Opdahl Mo (SINTEF Health Research, Trondheim, Norway)

Journal of Health Organization and Management

ISSN: 1477-7266

Article publication date: 8 August 2008



The paper seeks to explore whether the development in department management in Norwegian hospitals after the unitary management reform in 2001 constitutes a development in the direction of general management


Interviews were conducted with ten managers from different levels in a large Norwegian university hospital in 2001‐2002, as a unitary management model was implemented.


There is an emerging change of practice among the physician managers according to this study. The manager function is more explicit and takes a more general responsibility for the department and the professions. However, the managerial function is substantiated by conditions related to the professional field of knowledge, which gives legitimacy within a medical logic. Contact with the clinic is stressed as important, but it is possible to adjust both amount and content of a clinical engagement to the demands of the new manager position. This has both a symbolic and a practical significance, as it involves both legitimacy and identity issues.

Practical implications

The paper shows that the institutionalised medical understanding of management has a bearing on managerial reforms. Managerial changes need to relate to this if they are to have consequences for the managerial roles and structures on department level in hospitals.


The paper suggests that the future development of this role will depend on the way the collectivist and individualist aspects of responsibility are handled, as well as on the further development of managerial knowledge of physicians.



Opdahl Mo, T. (2008), "Doctors as managers: moving towards general management? The case of unitary management reform in Norwegian hospitals", Journal of Health Organization and Management, Vol. 22 No. 4, pp. 400-415.



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