As doctors we often make career decisions very young in life or just many years before attaining the actual role we wanted. For some of us it can be several years down the line before we ask if it is still right for us. Or more importantly serving our lives now, where circumstances may have changed considerably. In the face of mounting pressures on clinical practice this lack of personal career planning is partly why I believe many doctors are being forced to consider whether to stay in medicine or leave all together.
In recent times I have come to question if this needs to be the case. I was recently asked to give a talk about portfolio careers to a group of GP trainees. After the talk one of the trainees approached me and said, “if medical students understood the opportunities a GP career could offer then we wouldn’t have a recruitment problem in General practice”. This got me thinking how general practice could be promoted once more as the flexible lifestyle option. In fact, even in the more traditional general practice roles of partnership or salaried it’s hard to find a GP without an additional interest. These they often cited as one of the things that helps them cope with the daily challenges of general practice. At my previous practice alone, there was a CCG lead, Medico-legal expert witness, GPWSI in Dermatology, Diabetes regional lead, Out if hours work, Aesthetics Doctor and a exam question writer. All of these interests served to strengthen and improve their grass-roots general practice work.
Having held a variety of GP roles personally over the last 10 years alongside a number of allied medical roles and a non-medical one. I believe this is key to a balanced and enjoyable career. During a recent mentorship through my local LMC I was blown away to see the breadth of career options that could be coupled to a GP career. I recommend mentorship or formal career coaching to anyone feeling stuck in their current role. I had considered leaving medicine but far from making me want to leave medicine, it has given me a renewed passion for showing people the flexibility of a general practice career. Currently I get to see patients and contribute to a practice at the same time as having a diverse range of projects and interests. Sometimes we have such blinkers on in busy jobs or conveyer belt training we forget to look up and see the options we have around us.
Evidently NHS England is embracing and supporting career diversity across all medical specialities with their Clinical Entrepreneurship program. It is taking applications for its 4th year running now. Traditionally only research or teaching were supported by the NHS as an option for alternative or add-on careers to clinical medicine. With clinical innovation coming increasingly from the commercial sector they’re seeking to develop and ultimately retain talented professionals within the NHS itself. Their research has shown by welcoming innovation and encouraging individual ideas they are in fact retaining those much-needed professionals that otherwise would have been lost to the private sector.
I would challenge anyone at any stage of their career to consider what is important to them. I asked the GP registrars just that. What interests they have both inside and outside of medicine to craft their career into a sustainable and fulfilling one. Clearly some will still value the stability and ownership that can come from traditional career paths in general practice. For those though, who may have grown unsure in the face of bad press of their career choice I hope that they left with a renewed sense of hope of what general practice offers. I believe it offers the option to combine many aspects of a career that so many covert. In embracing this I would hope we would not only retain hardworking innovative practitioners in our ranks but also attract a whole new generation keen to improve and sustain the future of general practice.
Dr Claire Harris was a GP Partner for over 6 years. With interests in women's health, contraception, sexual health and palliative care, Claire now works as a Locum GP. She has an additional interest in lifestyle medicine and is trained in Aesthetic medicine. Claire has a passion for holistic healthcare and a vision of fusing modern medicine and complementary medicine.