As a general practice doctor you'll usually be the first healthcare professional a patient sees, and your work plays an important role in getting them the treatment they need

General practitioners (GPs) provide continuing medical care for patients in the community. They're usually a patient's first point of contact, seeing them in the surgery, at their home or within other settings such as care homes.

When diagnosing illness and recommending the required treatment, you'll have to take into account physical, emotional and social factors to provide a holistic approach.

Part of your role will be to refer patients to hospital clinics for further assessment or treatment and you may also run specialist clinics within the practice for patients with specific conditions, such as asthma.

You'll work in a team with other healthcare professionals to discuss care options for patients and their families, helping patients to take responsibility for their own health.

All GPs need to carry out admin work, but if you're a partner in a practice you'll be heavily involved in business functions, such as employing staff, managing contracts and working within strict budgets.

Responsibilities

As a GP, you'll need to:

  • respond to patients' medical/health problems by referring to their history and carrying out diagnosis, investigation, treatment and referral as appropriate
  • maintain confidentiality and impartiality
  • liaise with medical professionals in the community and hospitals
  • promote health education in conjunction with other health professionals
  • organise preventative medical programmes for individual patients
  • provide specialist clinics for specific conditions or for certain groups, e.g. diabetes, smoking cessation and new babies
  • meet targets set by the government for specific treatments, such as child immunisations
  • discuss the development of new pharmaceutical products with pharmaceutical sales representatives
  • keep up to date with medical developments, new drugs, treatments and medications, including complementary medicine
  • observe and assess the work of trainee GPs and medical students and teach at medical schools or hospitals.

If you're a partner in a practice, you'll also need to:

  • recruit and arrange training for staff
  • make decisions on the development of the practice
  • keep financial records and make sure the practice runs within budget
  • carry out audits and attend staff meetings.

Salary

  • Junior doctors in Foundation Year 1 (F1) earn a basic starting salary of £26,614. In Foundation Year 2 (F2), this rises to £30,805.
  • A doctor in specialist training starts on a basic salary of £36,461 and progresses to £46,208.
  • Salaried general practitioners (GPs) earn £56,525 to £85,298 depending on the length of service and experience.

You'll receive extra pay if you work over 40 hours a week. There is also a 37% enhancement for working nights and allowances for weekend and on-call work. Pay in private practice is set on different scales.

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

Working hours

A typical working day lasts from around 8am until 6.30pm but this can vary. You may be expected to work outside these hours as some surgeries open on a Saturday morning or late evenings. In these instances, it's likely you'll work on a rota system to cover the appointments. There is a chance that GP practices will move to be open seven days a week.

Many GPs work flexibly or part time and career breaks are possible although you'll need to keep up to date with any relevant developments in the field. Taking a career break for longer than two years will typically require some retraining.

What to expect

  • Usually two sessions with patients are held each day, with appointments lasting about ten minutes each. Around 30 to 40 patients are seen per day. A full-time week is classed as eight sessions.
  • You'll make home visits between sessions for patients who are unable to attend the surgery. Travel during the day in the local area is a common feature of the work.
  • Some GPs work 'out of hours' (on-call work) and during public holidays.
  • Additional contact with patients may also be made via email or phone calls. The use of different media, e.g. video calls, to consult with patients is likely to increase.
  • The work/life balance within general practice tends to be better than in some other specialities where longer hours and irregular shifts are common.
  • There is a higher proportion of women in general practice than in hospital medicine. The Medical Women's Federation works to promote personal and professional development of women in medicine.

Qualifications

To become a GP, you'll 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.

Medical degrees are available at undergraduate level (taking five years to complete) and graduate level, which typically takes four years. The British Medical Association has further information about applying to medical school as a graduate.

Entry into medicine is very competitive and your motivation and commitment are rigorously assessed. You may be required to complete the UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT) or BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT). Find out how to prepare for the UKCAT.

Following your medical degree, you'll need to complete a two-year foundation programme, which consists of:

  • Foundation Year 1 (F1): allows you to take supervised responsibility of patient care in a variety of settings. Once you've successfully completed F1 you can be granted full registration by the General Medical Council (GMC).
  • Foundation Year 2 (F2): you'll remain under supervision but will take on increasing responsibility and make management decisions. At the end of F2, you'll get the award of Foundation Achievement of Competence Document (FACD), which allows you to enter a general practice training programme. More information can be found at The Foundation Programme.

The specialist training in general practice takes at least three years to complete. This includes 18 months as a speciality registrar in a range of hospital roles, 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 can then gain entry to the GMC GP Register, and start applying for jobs.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • personal qualities such as compassion, resourcefulness, stamina, motivation and perseverance
  • the ability to work within a multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals
  • excellent listening and communication skills for dealing with patients
  • leadership skills, especially if working as a partner in a practice
  • the ability to work under pressure and deal with different demands
  • good IT skills for keeping patient records
  • excellent time-management to balance appointments with admin work
  • business skills if running a practice as a partner.

Work experience

You'll 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

It's most likely that you'll work within an NHS practice trust as a GP, although there are opportunities to work in private practice as well.

There are a limited number of jobs for GPs in the armed forces, with some possibility of working overseas. You can also find work in the Civil Service, in settings such as prisons.

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:

Professional development

Once you're working as a GP, you must keep you knowledge and skills up to date through continuing professional development (CPD). You'll have to complete revalidation with the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) every five years.

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 a total of 250 credits of CPD for revalidation so should aim for 50 credits each year.

CPD activities should reflect your personal interests and can include additional training and study, peer review, mentoring skills and attendance at events.

It's useful to develop a portfolio to keep track of your CPD activities and give examples of your work. As well as revalidation, the portfolio can be used for general professional development, appraisals and interviews. The NHS provide access to an e-portfolio for doctors, as well as advice on how to complete it.

The RCGP can also help with training and development and offers various events, including one day essentials conferences on topics such as mental health, ear, nose and throat, and ophthalmology. Find out more at RCGP Learning.

As you progress, you may choose to undertake further training to specialise in a certain area and become a GP with specialist interest. This will involve taking a postgraduate qualification in a specialist topic such as a diploma in cardiology. You could also take a clinical assistant role, working under a consultant for one day a week, or attend update meetings on your specialist interest.

Career prospects

It's 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 partner within a surgery, which means that you'll 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.