Approaches to motivate physicians and nurses in low- and middle-income countries: a systematic literature review

Jaya Gupta, Mariya C. Patwa, Angel Khuu, Andreea A. Creanga

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Poor health worker motivation, and the resultant shortages and geographic imbalances of providers, impedes the provision of quality care in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). This systematic review summarizes the evidence on interventions used to motivate health workers in LMICs. A standardized keyword search strategy was employed across five databases from September 2007 -September 2017. Studies had to meet the following criteria: original study; doctors and/or nurses as target population for intervention(s); work motivation as study outcome; study design with clearly defined comparison group; categorized as either a supervision, compensation, systems support, or lifelong learning intervention; and conducted in a LMIC setting. Two independent reviewers screened 3845 titles and abstracts and, subsequently, reviewed 269 full articles. Seven studies were retained from China (n = 1), Ghana (n = 2), Iran (n = 1), Mozambique (n = 1), and Zambia (n = 2). Study data and risk of bias were extracted using a standardized form. Though work motivation was the primary study outcome, four studies did not provide an outcome definition and five studies did not describe use of a theoretical framework in the ascertainment. Four studies used a randomized trial—group design, one used a non-randomized trial—group design, one used a cross-sectional design, and one used a pretest–posttest design. All three studies that found a significant positive effect on motivational outcomes had a supervision component. Of the three studies that found no effects on motivation, two were primarily compensation interventions and the third was a systems support intervention. One study found a significant negative effect of a compensation intervention on health worker motivation. In conducting this systematic review, we found there is limited evidence on successful interventions to motivate health workers in LMICs. True effects on select categories of health workers may have been obscured given that studies included health workers with a wide range of social and professional characteristics. Robust studies that use validated and culturally appropriate tools to assess worker motivation are greatly needed in the Sustainable Development Goals era.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number4
JournalHuman resources for health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Health worker motivation
  • Low- and middle-income countries
  • Supportive supervision
  • Systematic review
  • Workforce

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Administration
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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