We all rely on them. They are one of the most trusted professionals. They can save your life.
No, we're not talking superhereos… GPs or 'general practitioners' are one of the top profession choices, and it’s not hard to see why as they play a vital role in the medical sector.
So, what will I actually be doing?
GPs play a hugely important role within their community. You’re the first port of call for anyone who falls ill, feels depressed or wakes up with worse back pain now than when they went to sleep.
A sure fire way of impressing at parties, GPs are fully-trained medical doctors who practice in the primary care sector (in the scary world beyond hospitals).
The nitty gritty
The core work of a GP is all about listening, so if you like to talk about yourself and not much else, you might want to consider a different career. Daily tasks can include:
- Holding consultations in the surgery
- Listening to patients and diagnosing and treating their symptoms
- Deciding on the right course of action for patients (could include hospital referral for specialised treatment)
Administrative and management duties
Because you’ll be such a busy bee, many practices now employ full-time managers to take the load off the doctors, but a GP is still responsible for:
- Keeping detailed records of all patients and the treatments they receive
- Hiring and managing staff
- Making major spending decisions on premises and equipment
- Liaising with other medical and social care professionals within their own surgery and beyond
With further training GPs can sharpen their specialist knowledge in areas such as diabetes or heart disease, and hold specialist consultations within their practice, just like a hospital consultant. There are also openings like prison doctors, police surgeons, army doctors and GP trainers, not to mention the high standing in which UK-trained GPs are held internationally.
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Money, money, money
If you’re going into this job just for that salary, you may need to slow down and have a re-think as the big figures will only come after years of work.
Salaried GPs working directly for a primary care trust start at £57,000, rising to £81,000 with experience, but when you first start as a junior hospital doctor you’ll earn between £22,000 and £29,000 for a 40-hour week.
To join the elite group of high-earning GPs, you have to become a practice partner. In simple terms, become a self-employed independent contractor to the NHS. If you choose this, you’ll be responsible for providing adequate premises from which to practice and employing your own staff.
Any profit will depend on the services you provide and the way you run the practice: certainly there have been plenty of cases of such GPs earning well over £250,000 per year, and the latest set of reforms is expected to push GP earnings potentially even higher.
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The good points...
Despite the huge changes in the structure and nature the of work, being a GP is still a highly respected job. It richly rewards all those long, hard and expensive years of training you have to endure to get to the enviable position.
Once fully-qualified you could be in demand from more than just needy patients. A whole world becomes available as you could work as an educator, academic researcher, advising police and lawyers in criminal cases, writing for publications, broadcasting, or working for government, professional associations and NHS committees.
...and the bad
Everyone has had a day when they think death is knocking at the door when actually it’s just a cold. Well being a GP you’ll come across people like this on a daily basis, alongside time-wasters who just have a small cut on their leg and are insisting you call an ambulance. Best of luck with them.
GPs are also often involved in research and medical education, so you’ll have to keep up to date with massive amounts of information from drug companies and medical journals. The study will never end in this job.
Is there study involved?
No time for slacking if you want to be a GP, there's a lot of training to be done. Competition for places on both undergraduate and postgraduate medical courses is intense, so you’ll need excellent A-level grades before you’ve even begun further education.
Then you’ve got to go to a university medical school and complete a degree in medicine, which typically takes four to five years, although some colleges now offer accelerated degree courses for applicants with relevant science degrees.
Once you have your shiny medical degree, you’ll need to do at least another 5 years of specialist postgraduate study. This includes a 2 year foundation period in which you’ll work in various junior hospital doctor roles.
By this point you’ll need to decide what sort of a doctor you wish to become as the next three years training as a speciality registrar, working in hospitals in various specialist areas for 18 months. Then, if you’ve chosen the GP route, you’ll work the final 18 months in primary care.
After successful completion of each of these stages, you’ll still need to pass a final exam to become a Member of the Royal College of General Practitioners – only then are you are a fully-fledged GP. Phew!
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OK, I'm interested... But is it really the job for me?
The NHS has changed dramatically so these days GPs need business sense as well as medical expertise, a reason why the majority are now self-employed, working with groups of other GP partners in practices or commissioning services for their patients through the local primary care trust.
Under the latest set of NHS reforms GPs will have even more power and influence so will need more management skills as they become the primary decision makers in localised NHS spending.