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Independents' Day

General practice needs to get sexy

Dr Sarah Merrifield

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Everyone is trying to get more people into general practice, from a ‘ban the bash’ campaign to videos of GPs visiting old ladies with dodgy 80s electronica music in the background. But maybe what we need is make general practice sexier. Image is everything for the age group we’re trying to recruit and we need to recognise that.

The current cohort of medical students and junior doctors are ‘millennials’, born between 1982 and 2002. An over-nurtured, optimistic group, we are known for our desire to be special and have great ambition, but lack the ability to take personal responsibility for this. The sad fact is, being a GP does not fulfil our need to become the special little snowflakes we feel entitled to be. We were told at medical school that half of us would become ‘just a GP’ – where is the grandeur in that? Millennials want it all and we want it now and the current promotional mantra just doesn’t appeal to those we are trying to recruit.

Basic social learning theory tells us people learn by observation, imitation and modelling. Sadly, the GP crisis means there is a lack of role models for young doctors and medical students. The suave plastic surgeon striding about in an Armani suit trumps the tired GP drowning in paperwork. In the age of Instagram and selfies, the image needs to be right.

Sexy is smart, exciting, stimulating and appealing

I am, of course, making huge generalisations. We have many positive role models: RCGP chair Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard, GP Survival spokesperson Dr Zoe Norris and the cast of Channel 5’s GPs Behind Closed Doors series to name but a few. But we need to get them to the forefront of recruitment.

Social learning theory also forms the basis of advertising psychology. Want to sell shampoo? Use Cheryl and her glitzy lifestyle. Want to sell watches? Try Roger Federer. The fact is that sexy sells.

I do agree that general practice is a respectable profession – I am not suggesting we get a load of attractive GPs to cavort provocatively in their underwear. But sexy is more than that. Sexy is smart, exciting, stimulating and appealing; it could be something as simple as a charismatic, likeable GP who has a special interest or an interesting hobby. Someone who is passionate and dynamic and who can demonstrate that, yes, GPs can be special snowflakes! (And it wouldn’t do any harm to put some attractive specimens in the promotion material).

No career is fabulously exciting all of the time. But this doesn’t mean we should focus on the negatives in the interests of showing ‘reality’. Reality is what you make it; the wide scope of general practice means there are options for everyone.

When I suggest this to my GP colleagues the retort is: ‘No, what we really need is to make the workload more manageable, then it will be a more attractive career’. But manageable is not the first quality that springs to mind when considering what is attractive. Surely one of the ways we can make the workload more doable is by having more of us to share it?

So please, let’s stop putting ourselves down and get the sexy people out there. The future of our profession depends on it.

Dr Sarah Merrifield is a GP leadership fellow in Yorkshire

This blog is part of our ‘Great GP Debate’ season. If you would like to write a blog on how you see the future of general practice, then please email the Editor at

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Readers' comments (13)

  • Reality, as defined by that great author Philip K Dick, is that which, even if you choose to not believe in it ,doesn't go away.It's a definition I like and feel is vastly more accurate than the one outlined above.

    As GPs are about to get recognised as 'proper Specialists' very soon I can feel a massive increase in the incidence of priapism because that's proper sexy....

    And I also guess that a GPwSI should now be called a professor.Ahh the vinegar stroke!!

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  • The photos of the rare Ferrari driven by a young GP in Australia on social media could be considered sexy to some.

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  • Sorry but spend a few weeks doing this job and there is very little sexy. Apathy, feeling of impending doom, no time to see family or friends, mountains of c&*p, dozens of patients moaning every day because through no fault of their own their operations have been cancelled, OPA cancelled, no social services, no benefits, and every answer to every question is "go and see your GP to sort"
    Skips and landfill are not sexy. That is GP land.

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  • When we become 'specialists' can we dump our crap on somebody else?

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  • ??2002?? Didn't know 14 year olds could go to medical school....or is my brain just addled after a very long day at work?

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  • Ladyham @10.07pm- the definition of millennials varies but one in essence maintains they are that generation who reached adulthood close to the year 2000.They love taking selfies-like the picture which adorns the top left of this article. The also love to use terms such as snowflake in a way that is lacking in irony and are firm subscribers to political correctness to the detriment of critical thinking and in contravention of some harsh facts of reality.But then again, their definition of reality can be troubling.

    I hope this helps.......

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  • When I was 5 my carrier choices were made on the basis of something close to above described sexy-appeals. When I was graduating, my choices were made on analysis of my strengths and weaknesses and on conditions of the job market at the time. I think this article is focusing on a minor superficial detail, milenials or not, main drives of carrier choices in medicine have little to do with glamour

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  • Cobblers

    Eff me sideways with a bargepole! Sexy??? FFS!!

    Value the people (with proper pay) value their work (don't overload) and don't overregulate with parasitic organisations.

    GP may be already too late to save but the above is a start.

    Sexy my arse

    COI child of the 60s.

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  • Sarah, I read this and choked then read it again then reflected and actually you have a point. It was brave of you to say but it needed saying.

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  • Good one Sarah but I'm convinced that we all are too sexy for our bodies and minds to be brainwashing the younger generation.
    If we have come to the stage that we need to publicize and prove that GP is a sexy, it's ignoble already. I didn't come into the profession thinking it's sexy. A Doctor, and then GP, is always what I wanted to be and I had no blooming idea that there was money in it or it had a sexy image. Some things don't need publicity and no amount of 'sexising' GP will help to attract people. However, there are stark realities which hinder and discourage the young generation - these are our realities of today. Will we get over them, probably not.

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