How to get more medical students into general practice

Written by: Dr Heather Ryan
Published on: 29 Mar 2016


There truly is ’nothing general about general practice’. Assessing a patient in ten minutes, with nothing more than the history and examination to guide the initial diagnosis, is immensely challenging – but rewarding, too. But cheery, superficial short films about skydiving forms and asthma checks do nothing to promote the career to a new generation of young doctors.

If the Government wants 50% of junior doctors to become GPs, it needs to work with medical schools to raise the profile of primary care on the undergraduate medical curriculum. When I left medical school in 2011, I had spent just ten weeks in general practice over the course of three years of clinical placements. This does not reflect the central role that primary care plays in the UK healthcare system, and reinforces the perception that it is a second-rate career option.

One of the great strengths of general practice is the scope it offers for portfolio and flexible working. To encourage young doctors into GP training, the Government should promote training schemes offering something more than the standard three years of hospital and GP placements. For example, trainees could be supported to develop a specialist clinical interest, or could receive protected time out of training to pursue further study.

Where such schemes already exist, they are usually well-received. For example, I am extending my training by a year to complete a medical leadership fellowship with Health Education North West. As well as a place on a fully-funded Masters degree, I receive protected time out of training to develop projects and shadow healthcare leaders.

General practice will have a recruitment problem until UK primary care becomes a more attractive environment in which to work. Workload is rising and funding and resources are not keeping pace. Increasingly, GPs are succumbing to stress and burnout and are cutting their hours or leaving the profession. Is it any wonder that junior doctors are reluctant to sign up if their only exposure to general practice was a medical school placement where they watched GPs slog through paperwork until 9pm every night, worrying about whether they had the right sort of curtains before their CQC inspection?

Dr Heather Ryan is a GP registrar in Liverpool

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