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This is what we should be telling potential GPs

Amid new rounds of GP recruitment and endless promises of delivering thousands more of us, I’ve revisited the debate about what we should be saying to trainees who ask about being a GP, as I’ve often been accused of being too negative: ‘You can’t expect anyone to want to be a GP if all they hear are complaints about how bad it is!’

Let’s be proud to say what general practice does offer

But these are intelligent people, so to say everything is fine and dandy would be just as damaging – we’d end up with a generation of trainees entirely unprepared for independent practice, who’d burn out in the first month. Bad for them, and bad for the profession.

Some recruitment campaigns have made me cringe, but they are starting to improve. What strikes me, though, is that we still don’t hear enough from your average GP about why they are still doing the job. It is considered ‘un-GP-like’ to admit you’re working for any reason other the selfless goal of serving your community. We don’t promote other ways of working or focus on worklife balance.

A GP career is sustainable, especially as a trainee coming in you have so many choices about how and where you work; it’s unreal. But there is still a view that telling trainees this is wrong, possibly driven by a fear that if the drop-off in those wanting to be partners continues, the independent contractor model will cease to be viable. That may well be true – but in many areas it’s not viable now. And we can’t seriously expect to conscript new GPs into partnerships when many want to work in a different way. The current period of transition and uncertainty over so-called ‘new models of care’ is a minefield of partnerships, salaried working, locums, super-partnerships, mergers, MCPs, STPs and ACOs. Any more TLA and I will explode.

Let’s listen to what those coming into training are saying. Let’s be proud to say what general practice does offer and does get right.

I’ll go first. I became a GP so I wouldn’t be looked down on for working less than full time. There – I said it. I saw the view in hospitals of anyone working part time (especially women with children). In general practice, it wasn’t an issue. I’m not less of a doctor because I’ve had kids and choose not to work 10 sessions a week.

I became a GP because I don’t like others telling me what to do. I don’t have to bow to the will of some pompous consultant; I can set and maintain my own standards as a GP. In my consulting room, with the door closed, I can choose how I practice. If patients like me they see me again, if not, they see someone else.

The job pays. It does. We’ll never be able to plead poverty as GPs. Does the pay match the intensity of work? No. Does it reward the years and years of study? Not really. If we all suddenly got a proper pay rise would we feel the Government had ‘got’ it? No. Our income can be altered every 12 months at the whim of whoever is sat in Downing Street, and trainees need to know that, but GPs will never be badly paid and that is important.

Is general practice all sunshine and kittens? Of course not. But it’s fine if we remember it’s just a job and practise sensibly. That’s what we should be telling our students and trainees – it’s a job, and as jobs go, it’s not half bad.  

Dr Zoe Norris is a GP in Hull. You can follow her on Twitter @dr_zo