It might seem odd for the GP lead of the new Anglia Ruskin School of Medicine to admit he has a problem with the idea of channelling medical students into general practice, but I do.
Trust an Essex boy to spoil the mood music but I’m simply not sold on the idea that we can or should attempt to engineer the careers of our students in ways that they will quickly see through and possibly resent.
So, what to do instead? Well, for one, give them chances to see that some of their brightest and best future colleagues choose to work in primary care because they believe in it and because it allows them to make a difference.
Putting students into general practices from year one and involving working GPs in delivering campus-based teaching will help to achieve this, as there is nothing like a bit of role-modelling to stir the imagination.
Our intention is not to drag our students to the watering hole of general practice but persuade them it is somewhere to consider going for themselves
I have been impressed, in every sense of the word, by the capability and enthusiasm of GP colleagues who want to contribute to our teaching, most particularly those who are early in their career and looking for opportunities to spread the love. So much for talk of a profession that is often reported as being demoralised to the point of despair.
In addition, it helps for our School to generate a positive culture around general practice from the outset. Health Education England’s 2016 report ‘By choice not by chance’ points to endemic, casual denigration of GPs in medical schools, so an important part of my role is to call this out where I see it; whilst it is yet to be seen whether our new school will do any better, I think it might.
We encourage a view of general practice as an intellectually robust discipline, signposting our students to the evidence base that demonstrates its effectiveness in relieving human suffering, both on an individual and population level. To counter negativity and prejudice, our curriculum encourages students to engage in conversations with their supervisors and peers that will challenge notions of what it is to be a professional; as a spoiler alert, this will include considering the pervasive effect of ‘banter’ on building respect between colleagues. Heaven knows, they will be busy enough fielding off the ‘hilarious’ jokes about Essex.
We do not plan to shy away from the terms ‘general practice’ or ‘primary care’ when describing to students the contributions GPs make to patient care, in the process reminding them of where the patient journey usually begins and ends. Our integrated course will enable students to compare and contrast the delivery of care in Trusts and in the real world, allowing students to understand the processes of decision-making and the consequences of intervention.
Presenting general practice as the seat of problem-solving and thoughtfulness should make it an attractive place for those who value these aptitudes. To misuse an old analogy, our intention is not so much to drag our students to the watering hole of general practice as to persuade them that it is somewhere they should consider going for themselves.
As I walk around our rather wonderful new building, I am struck by the juxtaposition of our state-of- the art simulation facilities with the more down-to-earth GP Suite (which, frankly, needs a few faded health promotional posters on the wall to make it look entirely authentic). We have the opportunity to do great things in both.
Will the Anglia Ruskin School of Medicine solve the GP recruitment crisis in Essex at a stroke? Of course not, but it will make a difference, potentially a life-saving one. Not just by training doctors who may be inspired to join our workforce in the future but also, crucially, by creating some hope and opportunity for those already working in general practice in our area at a time when both seem in short supply. Enthusiasm is catching and magnetising. If this sounds like an advertisement for the Essex Tourist Board then you are not far wrong.
Dr Roger Tisi is GP lead in general practice at Anglia Ruskin University School of Medicine