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OBJECTIVES--To investigate applications for general practice partnership vacancies by established general practitioner principals, the reasons for changing partnerships, and the disincentives to these moves. DESIGN--Confidential postal questionnaire. SUBJECTS--Applicants to 367 general practices in the United Kingdom advertising for a new full time partner. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES--The proportion of job applications containing at least one application from established principals, proportion of principals appointed as new partners, incentives and disincentives to changing partnership. RESULTS--Of 325 replies (89% response rate) received, 292 were suitable for further analysis. 210/241 (87%) of all applications contained some applications from at least one established principal. 12% of all applications were made by principals. 41/296 (14%) of the newly appointed partners had previously been an established principal. The main reasons for leaving the previous partnership were a desire to move locality or not getting on with previous partners. The disincentives to changing partnerships were largely financial, including the cost of the move and loss of income. CONCLUSIONS--It is possible for established principals in general practice to overcome the disincentives and to change partnerships. There did not seem to be any overall prejudice against appointing principals, in contrast to previously published views.