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Against the backdrop of integrating public health services and clinical services at primary healthcare (PHC) institutions, primary healthcare providers (PCPs) have taken on expanded roles. This posed a potential challenge to China as it may directly impact PCPs’ workload, income, and perceived work autonomy, thus affecting their job satisfaction. This study aimed to explore the association between the expanded roles and job satisfaction of the PCPs in township healthcare centers (THCs), the rural PHC institutions in China.
A cross-sectional study using mixed methods was conducted in 47 THCs in China’s Shandong province. Based on a sample of 1146 PCPs, the association between the proportion of PCPs’ working time spent on public health services and PCPs’ self-reported job satisfaction was estimated using the logistic regression. Qualitative data were also collected and analyzed to explore the mechanism of how the expanded roles impacted PCPs’ job satisfaction.
One hundred eighty-four physicians and 146 nurses undertook increased work responsibilities, accounting for 15.91% and 12.61% of the total sample. For those spending 40–60%, 60–80%, and more than 80% of the working time providing public health services, the time spent on public health was negatively associated with job satisfaction, with the odds ratio being 0.199 [0.067–0.587], 0.083 [0.025–0.276], and 0.030 [0.007–0.130], respectively. Qualitative analysis illustrated that a majority of the PCPs with expanded roles were dissatisfied with their jobs due to the heavy workload, the mismatch between the income and the workload, and the low level of work autonomy. PCPs’ heavier work burden was mainly caused by the current public health service delivery policy and the separation of public health service delivery and regular clinical services delivery, a significant challenge undermining the efforts to better integrate public health services and clinical services at PHC institutions.
The current policies of adding public health service delivery to the PHC system have negative impacts on PCPs’ job satisfaction through increased work responsibilities for PCPs, which have led to low work autonomy and the mismatch between the income and the workload. The fundamental reason lies in the fragmented incentives and external supervision for public health service delivery and clinical service delivery. Policy-makers should balance the development of clinic and public health departments at the institutional level and integrate their financing and supervision at the system level so as to strengthen the synergy of public health service provision and routine clinical service provision.