How to be a GP
your patients. Whatever life throws
Medical school, with 3 A or A* passes , usually in chemistry, physics, biology or maths. 5 year degree. You will need to pass post graduate specialist exams also, as well as having completed a post graduate training programme, usually lasting 5 years.
Emotional resilience and being able to work under pressure. Being able to manage teams. Problem solving and diagnostic skills. Management of complex and frail patients. Lots of empathy.
A bit about general practice
Would you like to work in a GP practice with teams of other professionals and do something you find interesting, eg diabetes, women’s health, children’s health? GPs can work in Urgent Care Centres in hospitals (often next to or in the A&E department) where they see more acute illnesses. Alternatively they can work in the pharmaceutical industry, or even the police or prison service.
Or of course a medical career might take you into the armed services such as the Army, Royal Airforce or Royal Navy – they may even sponsor you while you study. There are opportunities to teach or get involved in research. Finally, there are plenty of management roles such as Integrated Care Boards, and local medical committees. Plenty to choose from!
Why I love general practice
Being a GP is a huge privilege. You’re a part of patients’ lives as they grow older, have families, care for their children. Then if you’re lucky, you get to watch their children grow and lead their lives. It’s like an extended family, which is why we are sometimes called ‘family doctors’. Equally, patients are a part of a GP’s life. They check in on you when you look a bit tired, put on a little weight or sprout a few grey hairs. Patients ask about you and your family as well. They watch you go through your life’s journey too, and are supportive and always there to offer their kind words with a generous dollop of humour.
The relationship between doctors and patients is brimming with interesting stories, as people often come to their doctor when life-changing things happen to them – like becoming pregnant and having their first child (which doesn’t come with an instruction manual!). Paths often cross when there is uncertainty and worry, but together and over time we get through. It’s an emotional experience. There are tears of happiness and sadness, sometimes from us.
It’s a tough job with lots of things that could be better, but even when you’re exhausted after a long day at work, bumping into a patient and them saying ‘how are you doc?’ makes it all worthwhile. I wouldn’t do any other job.
A day in the life of a GP
What we would like to discuss with you is what its like to work as a doctor in a GP surgery. We have a few questions to ask: what is it really like being a doctor? How did you at the age of 17 or 18 decide that medicine was the thing that you wanted to do? And were there any challenges that you had to overcome?
Why did you decide to do medicine?
I’m Dr Nadia and I work in a GP practice. My story might be a little different to everyone else’s but lets take it from around the age of 15. I’m from Pakistan but at 15 we moved to the United States because my family relocated. In the US I did my bachelors. We moved back to Pakistan for family reasons and I went to do medical school.
I know it sounds like a cliche, but I always wanted to become a doctor and more specifically, my mom wanted me to become a doctor, but I was very much for it as well. So I did my training then I came to the UK because a lot of my friends were coming here and I had to take this international exam and after passing that I applied for a job in the NHS. I did my foundation years and at that time I had an option of choosing different specialities. During my foundation years I did my clinical placements in a GP setting which I enjoyed.
What motivated me to become a GP is the fact that there is ongoing care. If you’re managing a patient you can also follow up with that same patient to know what’s happening to them. Whereas in other specialties, they’re all good and they have their own good points, but for me it was very important to follow up what’s happening with my patient.
What sort of things do you do as a GP?
So it starts by doing patient consultations. There are two ways we can do consultations. You can either talk to the patients on the phone or you can do them face to face. And then there is also option of doing video consultation which came into practise more common after COVID. This is also because, there is that flexibility on whether the patient want to come in or not.
Afterwards, we deal with correspondence from the hospitals that say the patient has gone to the hospital for some reason, then we need to know what their follow up plan is. So there will be some admin work that includes prescriptions and reading through letters. In some practices the GPs are required to do some home visits as well and that’s for patients who are unable to come to the practice or patients who have complex needs and as a GP we go to their address and see what their needs are.
To improve the quality of our services, we have regular admin meetings. In these meetings we are making sure that we are not only giving patients their treatment, but making sure that it is working out for them and we are doing regular follow ups.
How long does it take to become a GP?
To become a GP generally takes 5-6 years at medical school and then the GP training is about another 5 years too, so roughly 10 years.
How long did it take you to get a job after graduating?
There are lots of jobs available but the system is a little different now to when I started. In the fifth year of your medical school, you get placements. So you start applying and then you are allocated based on what you have applied for based on availability. There are lots of jobs available in the NHS and in GPs so it should not be a problem.
What advice could you give to a student wants to go into the medical field?
Medicine is a vast field so you can choose different paths within that. The advice I would give would be to explore. Also, make sure that if you get the opportunity for work experience or placements, do take that because that would be really helpful in the future. It also depends what your interested in so it doesn’t mean that you have to be just be a doctor or a GP there are there are so many opportunities to be a nurse, a pharmacist, healthcare assistant, physician associates and more. You just need to decide what is the best fit for you. One thing I would say is don’t get into this field just because of your parents or outside influences.
Would you say being a GP has good life work balance and it’s worth 10 years?
I would say yes. I am a mother of two and I think one of the things that has helped me a lot is the life work balance. You can have a little bit of flexibility in terms of, choosing your hours and how to work which helps a lot.
There are no shortcuts no matter what career path you choose. You would have to give your time and you will have to work hard. If you work hard then that will get the results at the end or you’ll get the rewards or the success. I would not look at the years it will take just go with what you want to do.
What advice would you give to someone having setbacks in becoming a doctor?
If you’re passionate about it and did not get into a particular medical school, it is disheartening. But just remember that it is not the end. There are lots of options that you can choose within the medical field. You can be involved in many ways even if you’re not a GP. There are things that a nurse can do that I can’t. There are options for a nurse or a physician associate too. If you know what you’re looking for, it is worth exploring your options.
What is the most difficult part of your job?
I’m not just saying this but I really love my job and it’s because I love coming into it. But the most difficult part is the pressure and I think the NHS struggles mostly with the demand. There are people there who have got expectations, of course at the moment the demand is so high, but what can be stressful is that we don’t have that workforce to meet the demand. We are recruiting more but that is the most difficult thing.
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