In the latest in our mini-series, Dr Seema Pattni discusses the benefits and challenges of pursuing a portfolio career in general practice.
A portfolio career is an increasingly popular choice of profession among GPs. For the uninitiated, portfolio GPs have multiple roles within their week, including clinical and non-clinical ones. While they usually have a primary role in general practice, they also have the flexibility to take up other roles.
From prison doctors to clinical tutors and medical writers, the range of roles available is extensive and growing. Recently, there has also been a wave of GPs venturing even further to develop roles through entrepreneurial and creative pursuits – they are starting businesses, creating content, authoring books, featuring in exhibitions and challenging the status quo of traditional work.
But how to get started? To develop a sustainable portfolio career, it is important for you to explore your core values and what motivates you, but also what drains and frustrates you; defining these will maximise your chances of having enjoyment and longevity in your roles. Furthermore, having better self-awareness will enable you to successfully shape a portfolio career around your interests and strengths. Don’t forget to consider your financial and practical requirements, too.
Once you have narrowed down your options, start looking at the available roles in your area. As portfolio careers often evolve with networking and serendipity, speaking to other doctors and making it known that you are open to different roles will increase the chances of finding new and interesting work, though it should ideally be a part of a broader strategy to diversify your career.
What are the benefits and challenges?
If you enjoy variety, then a portfolio career will complement this well. Having diversity in your role, colleagues and work environment can be both stimulating and refreshing. And, often, branching into a portfolio career can have a domino effect in that one opportunity leads to another – this can be exciting and lead you to more entrepreneurial and creative roles later down the line.
But many GPs initially turn to portfolio working to avoid burnout; the pressures of general practice are so intense that working clinical sessions full-time can be exhausting. Those who were previously feeling stressed, overworked and fed-up with the profession say they enjoy their clinical sessions much more after diversifying their working week. Depending on your roles, you may find that there is less administrative work and better flexibility in terms of working hours and patterns.
However, one of the main challenges is maintaining balance in your week. Having multiple roles can make your week feel very disjointed. When working in part-time roles, there might not be enough time to complete the work required and it can overspill into time that is allocated for another role or your personal time. Following work up requires organisation and good time management skills.
Additionally, while having different teams and colleagues is great, people can feel like they do not get enough time in each of their various roles to feel fully integrated into the team. Sometimes, progression in a role or project can feel slower because you are not working in the job full-time. Overcoming these challenges effectively comes with self-development, experience, and time.
Then there’s the issue of money. Some portfolio roles offer lucrative salaries and packages, but some pay significantly less than clinical work, which has a big bearing on how financially practical a role is for you. If you can work in a role that is initially less well paid, the experiences and opportunities gained can be invaluable and ultimately lead to higher paying roles.
Despite the challenges, GPs seem keen to explore portfolio careers: in 2020, The King’s Fund survey found that 45% of GP trainees wanted to develop a portfolio career. Meanwhile, it also revealed that since 2016, only 27% of respondents planned to do full-time clinical work.
While some GPs simply wish to do fewer clinical sessions, others may consider the portfolio career as a planned step towards pivoting away from general practice altogether. We GPs have a wealth of skills that position us well for alternative jobs, but they can be competitive. Having experience in relevant roles is vital, as is knowing how to present and pitch yourself for a career pivot.
Where portfolio careers leave the future of general practice is an ongoing debate. What is certain, however, is that more and more GPs are progressively redefining themselves and their work.
Dr Seema Pattni is a London-based GP and careers coach for female doctors. Click here to find out more.