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Oxford medical school director: 'The variation in GP numbers between medical schools is not undesirable'

Dr Tim Lancaster, a GP and the director of clinical studies at the University of Oxford medical school, explains why just 16% of its students go onto become GPs

Although numbers entering training for general practice is relevant, it is also important to look at completion rates. Analysis of results of the MRCGP shows that for the past eight years, Oxford graduates have had the highest success rate in the country in both the knowledge and clinical skills components of this exit examination.

As a GP myself, I am delighted that our course is so successful in equipping graduates to be excellent primary care doctors.

There is strong evidence that the GP recruitment crisis is related to deterioration in funding and working conditions in the specialty, and much less to what goes on in medical school.

We have analysed the career destinations of our graduates over 50 years. In the 1980s over 40% of Oxford graduates chose general practice, a time when working conditions were good and opportunities in other specialties were limited (and, incidentally, there was almost no general practice in the medical school curriculum). The expansion in the consultant workforce since the 1990s offers a wide range of opportunities to doctors of talent.

If general practice is to compete with other specialities in attracting the best doctors, conditions and funding need to improve. Fix the job and the recruitment crisis will fix itself.

It is unacceptable to have variations in standards between medical schools. However, we do not agree that it is undesirable that there is variation between schools in the proportion of graduates entering different career paths. Oxford unashamedly selects students who have the potential to benefit from a course which places strong emphasis on the understanding of biomedical research.

As well as excellent clinicians, the course aims to nurture graduates capable of developing a research career and of contributing to the scientific advances that improve health and wealth. The NHS needs a vibrant life sciences sector just as much as it needs a strong primary care workforce. I am very pleased when some of our best graduates tell me they are applying for general practice training, but I would be disappointed if they all did.

Dr Tim Lancaster is a GP and the director of clinical studies at the University of Oxford medical school

Readers' comments (11)

  • Chris Kenyon

    I'd say that most of us aren't wired for research, so it's a good job that there are those who are happy to go into the details, just as long as they don't lose sight of the big picture and understand what we do and don't have time for in the real world. Of course Tim is right that fixing the job will fix recruitment.

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