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
20 December 2021
21 September 2021