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Doctors who were general practitioners in the period 1973-88 and had written a successful MD or PhD thesis were identified. Of 96 doctorates, 64 were MDs and 32 PhDs. Fourteen doctors had obtained their MD before becoming general practitioners and the remaining 50 after becoming general practitioners. Twenty of the 64 doctors were full time or part time members of a university department of general practice; six of these were professors. In this 16 year study the mean annual number of MDs written by doctors while in general practice was three, compared with five in the previous 15 years. Of the PhDs, 11 were obtained before starting a medical course, six during the pre-clinical period, three after qualifying but before entry into general practice and 12 after entry into general practice. Ninety two per cent of the 50 doctors who obtained their MDs while in general practice and 84% of all the doctors with MDs continued to do research afterwards. Further research was carried out by 81% of doctors with a PhD. The best way of producing good researchers in general practice is to encourage doctors to accept the challenge of writing a PhD or an MD thesis. This study has shown that writing such a thesis encourages rather than discourages a doctor to undertake further research.