General practitioners (GPs) provide primary and continuing medical care for patients in the community. They take account of physical, emotional and social factors when diagnosing illness and recommending the required treatment.

GPs also refer patients to hospital clinics for further assessment or treatment and may run specialist clinics within the practice for patients with specific conditions.

GPs work as part of a team alongside other healthcare professionals, including community health doctors, to discuss care options for patients and their families and help patients to take responsibility for their own health.

Those who are partners in a practice are also responsible for the running of the practice, which involves a range of administrative and business activities, such as employing staff, managing contracts and working within strict budgets.

Responsibilities

Tasks include:

  • responding to medical/health problems presented by patients including history taking, diagnosis, investigation, treatment and referral as appropriate;
  • maintaining confidentiality and impartiality;
  • commissioning healthcare by liaising with medical professionals in the community and hospitals;
  • promoting health education in conjunction with other health professionals;
  • organising preventative medical programmes for individual patients;
  • providing specialist clinics for specific conditions or for certain groups, e.g. diabetes, smoking cessation and new babies;
  • meeting targets set by the government for specific treatments, such as child immunisations;
  • discussing the development of new pharmaceutical products with pharmaceutical sales representatives;
  • managing resources to handle targets as effectively as possible, for example, using the NHS e-Referral Service;
  • using IT skills - some practices have one partner who specialises in the use of IT within the practice but all will be expected to
  • have basic abilities for work, such as maintaining patients' records using specific packages;
  • keeping up to date with medical developments, new drugs, treatments and medications, including complementary medicine;
  • observing and assessing the work of trainee GPs and medical students and teaching at medical schools or hospitals;
  • maintaining a portfolio of continuing professional development (CPD) activities.

It is also possible to specialise in a specific area of medicine, such as obstetrics and gynaecology, psychiatry or orthopaedics, or to focus on another area such as IT, human resource management, medical education or training.

Salary

  • Junior doctors in Foundation Year 1 (F1) earn a basic starting salary of £22,636. In Foundation Year 2 (F2) this rises to £28,076.
  • A doctor in specialist training starts on a basic salary of £30,002.
  • Salaried general practice doctors (GPs) earn £55,412 to £83,617 depending on the length of service and experience.

Bonuses are paid for work outside the hours of 7am to 7pm, Monday to Friday or if more than 40 hours are worked per week. Additional bonuses are typically 20% to 50% of the basic salary. Medical staff working within private practice or hospitals will be paid on different scales.

Income data from Health Careers. Figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Typically, GP surgeries are contracted to be open from 8.30am to 6.30pm, but GPs often need to work outside of these hours too. Many surgeries offer extended hours meaning the surgery is open until 8pm on certain evenings or on Saturday mornings.

What to expect

  • Usually two sessions with patients are held each day, with appointments lasting for around ten minutes. Around 30 to 40 patients are seen per day.
  • GPs also make home visits when patients are unable to attend the surgery and travel during the day within the locality is a common feature of the work.
  • Some GPs work 'out of hours' (on-call work) and during weekends and/or public holidays. Additional contact with patients may also be made via email or phone calls.
  • Many GP practices offer opportunities for part-time work or flexible working schedules.
  • Career breaks are possible. If you are off for less than two years you usually won't need to retrain on your return. Breaks longer than this will require retraining.
  • Just more than half of GPs are women and the Medical Women's Federation works for the provision of needs particularly felt by women in the profession.
  • GPs are part of Clinical Commissioning Groups, which are responsible for planning and designing local health services.

Qualifications

To become a GP you will need to complete:

  • a degree in medicine, recognised by the General Medical Council (GMC);
  • a two-year foundation course of general training;
  • specialist training in general practice.

A five-year undergraduate medical degree is available and you will typically need good grades in A-level chemistry, biology and another science subject, such as physics or mathematics. An arts A-level may be accepted as a third qualification.

You can also study medicine at graduate level after completing a degree in another subject. Most medical schools prefer science graduates but some accept degrees in an arts subject. You will usually be required to have a first or 2:1.

Graduate programmes are four years long but the content of courses can vary so check each one to see which would suit you. You can find a list of medical schools which offer the shorter graduate entry programme at British Medical Association (BMA): Applying To Medical School.

Some medical schools may require you to complete a foundation year if they believe you do not have sufficient scientific knowledge. This will then lead into the full programme of study for a medical degree.

It is also possible to apply for the undergraduate route even if you already have a degree, particularly if it is in a non-related subject.

If you do a first degree in medicine, funding support will be available through student loans and bursaries. However, if you already hold a degree and are completing the graduate medicine course, you will be required to have your own funding in place.

Financial help and support is available through a number of routes though, so research thoroughly to find out what you can apply for. Information on funding sources is available at:

Entry into medicine is very competitive and your motivation and commitment are rigorously assessed. Whole books of advice are available, but you can also find some free sample questions and tips for the interview process at ISC Medical. As part of the selection process some medical schools also require candidates to complete the UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT). Find out how to prepare for the the UKCAT.

Skills

You will need to show evidence of:

  • personal qualities such as compassion, resourcefulness, stamina, motivation and perseverance;
  • the ability to work within a multidisciplinary team;
  • excellent communication skills;
  • leadership skills;
  • a realistic idea of what the work involves.

Work experience

You will be required to have experience in a related area, such as a caring or health environment. This is to show that you have an understanding of what working in medicine is like and that you appreciate the emotional and physical demands, as well as the skills required.

Relevant work experience can be carried out in hospitals and GP practices, hospices and care homes or any other environment that involves caring for people. Work shadowing or observing doctors can also be helpful to get an idea of what the work involves.

Volunteering opportunities can be found at:

Employers

The vast majority of graduates leaving medical school to become GPs in the UK are employed by trust practices in the NHS, with only a small number working for private practices.

There are a limited number of jobs for GPs in the armed forces, with some possibility of working overseas. It is also possible to work for the Civil Service, in settings such as prisons. More information on these options is available from the BMA.

Many medical charities, both in the UK and overseas, offer posts for trained GPs, whether early in your career to gain experience, or later when you have experience to offer.

Look for job vacancies at:

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

Once you have your medicine degree, you will need to complete two additional stages of vocational training to qualify as a GP. The first is a two-year foundation programme, which consists of:

  • Foundation Year 1 (F1): this allows you to take supervised responsibility of patient care in a variety of settings. You will be supported and overseen by a foundation school, which includes a medical school, local deanery and trust. If you satisfactorily complete F1, the foundation school will recommend to the General Medical Council (GMC) that you can be granted full registration.
  • Foundation Year 2 (F2): you will remain under supervision but will take on increasing responsibility and make management decisions. At the end of F2 you will get the award of Foundation Achievement of Competence Document (FACD), which allows you to enter a general practice training programme.

More information is available at Foundation Programme.

After the foundation programme, you will move on to the specialist training in general practice. This second stage takes at least three years to complete and includes 18 months as a speciality registrar in a range of hospital specialties, followed by another 18 months as a GP speciality registrar in general practice.

You will also need to pass the exams for membership of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and will then be awarded the Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT). This means you are then legally eligible for entry to the GP Register and can apply for appropriate medical appointments.

Once you are working as a GP, you must have a continuing professional development (CPD) plan. The RCGP uses a credit-based system for measuring CPD, where one hour of learning, plus a reflective record, equals one credit. You need to complete revalidation every five years and must have a total of 250 credits of CPD to do so.

CPD activities should reflect personal interests and can include additional study, peer review, mentoring skills and appraisals. Many doctors attend external events, while others conduct individual research to expand career interests.

Career prospects

It is possible to work for a practice as a salaried doctor, which allows you to stay focused on clinical care and have flexibility over the hours you work.

Many GPs look to become a principal (partner) within a surgery, which means that you will have to take on responsibility with the business-side of the practice and undertake greater administrative activities.

You could also choose to become a locum, working between practices as required. Pay for locums has improved and this type of role allows you to spend more time with patients, rather than on practice administration.

If you have a particular area that you would like to specialise in, you can become a GP with Special Interest (GPwSI). For example, some GPs expand their expertise in areas such as substance misuse, epilepsy, endoscopy, safeguarding children, palliative care or sexual health, among others. This can help reduce specialist waiting times and address local needs.

Other development opportunities lie in education, training, research and development, volunteering for charities or providing occupational health services. You could also take on work in the armed forces, prisons, police stations or within medical journalism.

Many GPs develop 'portfolio' careers, often undertaking several roles on a part-time basis. Suggestions for ways of developing your career can be found at the BMA.