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Five key qualifications to look for in practice manager candidates

When GP partners make the decision to recruit a practice manager it could be for a number of reasons such as filling a vacant post, recruiting to replace a retiring manager or simply because they feel the need for someone to take the reins.  

I’ve recruited practice managers from a range of backgrounds and industries and found that it is often the range of skills they bring to the role that plays an important part in making a decision. The best candidates often demonstrate HR skills with strong team leadership attributes, financial and business management skills as well as project management and strategic development knowledge and know how. 

In the past, the practice manager’s job was filled by someone who grew through the ranks in a practice but these days, recruiting a practice manager can often mean the best candidate comes from ‘outside the NHS’.

In some ways, there isn’t a set formula or set of specific qualifications that stipulate ‘this is exactly what a practice manager needs to have’ as each practice will have their own set of requirements and it is about finding an individual who fits those requirements. There is no stringent standardisation of the practice manager’s role in the NHS and this can be a challenge, but it can also be seen as an opportunity to bring in the business knowledge and commercial awareness that is required in running a practice now.

Here are five key qualifications, one of which should be on the CV of your practice manager candidate.

1 The VTS or equivalent

The Institute of Healthcare Management (IHM) has a Vocational Training Scheme (VTS) for General Practice Managers (VTSGPM) that is accredited by Middlesex University at level 5 (undergraduate diploma).

Interestingly, the VTS is delivered on a part-time basis over a period of 36 weeks, using a blended learning model, which could mean that newly appointed practice managers can undertake the course after they are in post.

The NHS Careers’ website also states that:

‘Practice managers are usually required to hold a relevant qualification such as the diploma in primary care management (DPCM) awarded by the Association of Medical Secretaries, Practice Managers, Administrators and Receptionists (AMSPAR); or a Management of Health and Social Care (MHSC) programme or the Vocational Training Scheme for Practice Managers - both awarded by the Institute of Healthcare Management (IHM).’

2 NVQs or equivalent

For candidates with NVQs, Level 3 would indicate competence across a broad range of work related activities with considerable responsibility. At some sixth form colleges, a Level 3 NVQ can also equate to 1-5 A Levels at varying grades.

3 Membership of AMSPAR

While this isn’t a qualification, specifically for PMS, it is a desirable thing to have on a PM’s CV. Membership of professional bodies such as the AMSPAR (The Association of Medical Secretaries, Practice Managers, Administrators and Receptionists) also helps practice managers interact with peers once they are in post. However, the organisation does require members to have an AMSPAR qualification or (if not AMSPAR qualified) career experience of 10 years or more in the health care sector.

4 An MBA

Business qualifications such as an MBA can make a big difference to the skills required for the job as it will cover the fundamental requirements of business management and working with a strategic vision in mind for the practice.

5 Significant non-NHS management experience

At First Practice Management, some of the recruitment projects we’ve undertaken across the country include successfully appointed candidates that have come from different industries and with varying experience such as the forces, finance, HR, business, IT and senior management posts. Each of these industries lends its own set of valuable attributes to the applying candidates.

A new practice manager, who hasn’t worked in this sector before (but ticks all the other boxes for the role) can always learn more about who does what in the NHS and how that makes a difference to their job.

Ruth Long is the general manager at First Practice Management

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