Work-related pressures and susceptibility to health problems mean that many general practitioners (GPs) will, at some stage, experience the role of patient. However qualitative evidence about their experiences of illness and patienthood is sparse. Our study offers an interpretative perspective on GPs' experiences of illness and the influence that this has had on their practice. Seventeen GPs who had experienced significant illness took part in semistructured interviews. Data were analyzed using interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA). The findings highlight the relationship between empathy and empowerment and explore the role of self-disclosure of GP status by GPs in consultations. We make suggestions as to how empathy in doctor-patient relationships can be developed through consideration of power and status as well as through interaction with patients from similar backgrounds. Future research should focus on more specific ways to integrate these ideas into medical training.