As a general practice doctor you're the first healthcare professional a patient sees. 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 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 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
  • carry out a range of administrative work, including signing repeat prescriptions, death certificates and fitness for work statements, as well as preparing letters and reports
  • attend staff meetings
  • 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.

GP partners who are in charge of running their own practices as a business will also need to:

  • make decisions on the running, development and future of the practice
  • keep financial records and make sure the practice runs within budget
  • recruit and arrange training for staff
  • carry out audits
  • commission hospital services for the community.

Salary

  • Junior doctors in Foundation Year 1 (F1) earn a basic starting salary of £27,689. In Foundation Year 2 (F2), this rises to £32,050. 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.
  • A doctor in specialist training starts on a basic salary of £37,935 and progresses to £48,075.
  • Salaried general practitioners (GPs) earn £58,808 to £88,744 depending on the length of service and experience.
  • GP partners are self-employed and receive a share of profits of the business. There is potential in this role for higher earnings, depending on the performance of the practice.

Salaried GPs receive additional benefits such as sick-pay, holiday and maternity pay. If you're working as a partner GP you won't receive these benefits and will be responsible for paying your own tax.

Income data from NHS Health Careers - Pay for doctors. Figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

A 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 are many opportunities to work flexibly or part time. 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

  • There are usually two sessions with patients held each day, with appointments lasting about ten minutes each. Some GPs work 'out of hours' (on-call work) and during public holidays.
  • You'll work as part of a large multidisciplinary team that can include nurses, midwives, health visitors, pharmacists, psychiatrists and physiotherapists.
  • You'll make home visits between sessions for patients who are unable to attend the surgery.
  • Telephone consultations are becoming more common and the use of different forms of media is likely to expand in the future.
  • The work/life balance within general practice tends to be better than in some other specialities, where longer hours and irregular shifts are common.

Qualifications

To become a GP, you must complete:

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

Medical degrees are available at undergraduate level and usually take five to six years to complete. If you've already got a degree in a subject other than medicine (a 2:1 or above in a science-related subject) you can apply for a four-year accelerated graduate entry medicine programme, also known as a graduate entry programme (GEP). The British Medical Association has further information about applying to medical school as a graduate.

Entry into medicine is competitive, and your motivation and commitment are rigorously assessed. Most medical schools will expect you to take one of the following tests:

Check with individual course providers for details of which test you need to take.

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'll be granted full registration by the GMC.
  • Foundation Year 2 (F2): you'll remain under supervision but will take on increasing responsibility and make management decisions. On successful completion of the F2, you'll be eligible for the Foundation Programme Certificate of Completion (FPCC), which allows you to enter a general practice training programme. More information can be found at the UK Foundation Programme.

The specialist training in general practice takes at least three years to complete. This includes 18-to-24 months as a speciality registrar in a range of hospital roles, such as geriatric medicine, obstetrics and gynaecology or paediatrics, followed by another 12-to-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 gain entry to the GMC GP Register and start applying for jobs.

For details of training in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales see:

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • 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 skills to balance appointments with admin work
  • a flexible approach to work and the ability to manage change
  • business skills if running a practice as a partner.

Work experience

Entry to medical school is competitive and work experience or a placement in a caring or health environment is expected to get a place. 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. If possible, try to get experience that involves contact with patients and doctors or other healthcare professionals. Varied experience is particularly useful.

Work shadowing or observing doctors can also be helpful to get an idea of what the work involves. Contact your local hospital to try and get some work or shadowing experience. Some NHS Trusts will advertise volunteer opportunities through the Do-it volunteering database.

Employers

It's 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

You must keep your knowledge and skills up to date through continuing professional development (CPD) and will complete revalidation with the GMC every five years in order to show that you continue to be fit to practise.

The RCGP uses a credit-based system for measuring CPD. Under this system, one hour of learning equals one credit. You'll need to complete a total of 250 credits of CPD for revalidation, so should aim for 50 credits each year. CPD 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 a specialist interest. This will involve taking a postgraduate qualification in a specialist topic such as a diploma in cardiology.

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 take on responsibility for the business-side of the practice and will have more control over the direction the practice takes.

You could choose to become a locum, working between practices as required. This type of role allows you to spend more time with patients, rather than on practice administration.

It's also possible to become a GP with Special Interest (GPwSI). Some GPs, for example, expand their expertise in areas such as substance misuse, epilepsy, endoscopy, safeguarding children, palliative care or sexual health. This can help reduce specialist waiting times and address local needs.

You could also take a GP clinical assistant (GPCA) role, working under a consultant for one day a week.

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.

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