Questions pertaining to patient adherence and provider roles are part of the classical repertoires in sociological and health services research. While extensive research programmes consider why patients do not follow medical advice, less is known about how practitioners assess patient adherence. Similarly, there has been much work on provider roles changing with the organisation of healthcare, but less attention to the ways providers conceptualise, choose and strategically enact practices in the course of their work. Using data from a year-long ethnographic study of two diabetes clinics, I examine some of the stances medical practitioners actively choose and enact in their treatment of diabetes patients – educators, detectives, negotiators, salesmen, cheerleaders and policemen – and how they tailor their actions to specific patients in order to maximise their adherence to treatment regimens. Findings suggest that the notions of ‘patient adherence’ and ‘physician roles’ are conceptually broader and more fluid than what is captured in existing literature, and this rigidity potentially impairs our ability to learn more about the everyday practices of medical work.