from burnouts to medical deserts

Pierre Levisse, 69, country doctor in Lederzeele (North).


The diagnosis is alarming. In one decade, while the French population has gone from 63.4 million to 68 million inhabitants, the number of general practitioners has at the same time fallen, from 101,435 to 99,941; more worryingly, general practitioners working exclusively in private practice (the “family doctors”) went from 64,142 to 57,033 (according to the research, studies, evaluation and statistics department) – the others practicing in hospital, salaried or mixed exercise.

These figures are necessary, but less telling than the excellent report by Céline Martel, broadcast in “Enquête de santé”. She has indeed followed the daily life of a student in her final year and three general practitioners, with particularly emblematic profiles.

In Lederzeele, in the North, Pierre Levisse, 69, thus embodies the old-fashioned country doctor, reachable day, night, weekend. In their small house, his wife, Brigitte, takes care of making appointments, administrative tasks and prepares meals… swallowed up in twenty minutes by her husband before leaving for home visits, until 10 or 11 p.m.

Read also: The number of general practitioners working in private practice has fallen by 11% in ten years

But, after forty years like this, shaken by the death of a colleague, he resolved to retire, despite the unbearable feeling of abandoning his 2,500 patients (twice the national average!), for lack of a successor. “What bothers me is to pass for a deserter”, he said, sobbing in his voice. He will then decide to do something admirable. He will certainly explain this during the debate that follows the film, since he is one of the six guests, notably with Doctor Dominique Bontoux.


The life of the latter may seem tiring: residing near Carry-le-Rouet (Bouches-du-Rhône), Mme Bontoux travels 450 kilometers by train to practice in a medical desert as an employee at the Montceau-les-Mines health center (Saône-et-Loire). She finds this rhythm much more restful than the twenty years spent before in liberal practice – the situations described attest to this – until she falls seriously ill. For how long ? Filmed over several months, his workload will continue to increase.

At 29, Camille Bac, in her last year of medicine, does not want to have the life of these elders. The images show her questions during her first six months of internship in a general medicine practice near Lyon – a city she cannot imagine leaving, even briefly, to practice in a medical desert. Like her, the students interviewed at the Faculty of Lyon expressed their fears: fear of settling down, fear of working a lot… The doctor’s surgery seems to them more reassuring than exercising alone.

Conversely, Benoît Gombert, 40, assumes maximum responsibility alone, as a night general practitioner for SOS-Médecins, in Saint-Malo. And that pleases him, he says, even if his nocturnal activity obliges him to perform unexpected acts of forensic medicine: with a drowned person, on the beach, or at the hospital, to certify a death. He feels useful and especially appreciates being able to pick up his son Maxime, 6, suffering from a rare disease, every day after school.

In four portraits, Céline Martel depicts an evolution of the profession with which patients will have to deal. Hoping that it arouses vocations.

Read also: Article reserved for our subscribers The shortage of general practitioners, a symptom of the progression of “medical deserts” in town and in the countryside

Family doctors: caring until exhaustion?by Céline Martel (Fr., 2023, 60 min), followed by a debate presented by Marina Carrère d’Encausse.

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