A GP, or General Practitioner, is a medical doctor who diagnoses, treats and refers patients suffering from a range of illnesses.
A GP is the vital first point of contact for anyone suffering from an illness, except in immediately serious cases where a patient will go directly to hospital. GPs diagnose and treat diseases, sometimes referring the patient on to other specialists. As such, GPs must have a very broad medical knowledge.
GPs use a range of specialist equipment including a number of diagnostic devices to investigate the ear cavities, the nose and the eyes, and a stethoscope to hear the heartbeat.
Remuneration for qualified GPs is comparatively high. The biggest salaries are earned by those who go into business as owners of their own practice.
- A qualified doctor working through their GP foundation year can expect to earn up to £40,000 + per annum.
- A qualified GP employed by a practice is likely to earn between £40,000 and £80,000 per annum.
- A GP who owns or part-owns their own practice can earn up to £120,000 per annum.
A GP sees patients in a number of different ways, including on an appointment basis, in drop-in clinics and by making home visits to those considered too infirm to travel. A GP has a great deal of responsibility as it is down to them to diagnose and treat a large number of ailments. Their main responsibilities are as follows:
- Meet patients and make a diagnosis based on symptoms, case history and patient feedback.
- Prescribe medicines to treat specific conditions.
- Administer general health and lifestyle advice to prevent illness and/or speed recovery.
- Recommend and refer patients for further tests or treatment with other specialists for conditions that are not treatable by a GP.
- Administrative duties such as writing sick notes, updating patient records and writing referrals.
Becoming a GP in the UK takes a minimum of 10 years, which is comprised of five years studying medicine at medical school and five years on-the-job training.
In order to qualify for medical school, high results in at least five GCSEs are required, as well as a minimum of three A-levels at grades AAB including maths and other science subjects. Competition for places at medical school is generally high, and prospective students must demonstrate a high level of academic ability.
Graduates of medical school are then required to work in an NHS general hospital for two years, where they are exposed to a number of different medical specialities.
Once this period is complete, recent graduates must then choose a speciality. In the case of deciding to become a GP the graduate must undertake to study ‘Specialist Training in General Practice’ which takes around three years to complete.
Here the trainee will rotate through a number of specialist areas such as paediatrics, psychiatry, GUM (Genito Urinary Medicine) and general medicine, as well as working as an NHS registrar for 12 months. During this period frequent assessments are undertaken, which will eventually lead to the CCT (Completion of Training) being awarded. It is then possible to join the General Medical Councils GP register and practice as an independent doctor.
All GPs are required to further their skills throughout their careers by completing specialist courses and keeping up-to-date on developments in medicine.
Working as a GP is a challenging and rewarding role, and is suited only to high academic achievers who also have good social skills. Other essential skills include:
- An excellent long-term factual memory.
- An ability to analyse complex problems.
- A natural empathy and a desire to help people.
- The ability to work under extreme pressure in less than ideal circumstances.
- Confidence when making tough decisions.
- High levels of numeracy and mathematical ability.
As it is geared towards making the general public feel at ease, a GP’s surgery is a clean, calm and comfortable place to work. Hours are usually from 9am to 5pm, although they may be later in order to accommodate people visiting the practice after work.
GPs use some practical equipment such as blood pressure sphygmamometers, auroscopes (for ear exams) and ophthalmoscopes (for eye examinations). With a high volume of patients to see, each with a completely new set of problems and circumstances, a GP’s job can be both mentally and emotionally stressful. Generally speaking, a GP’s surgery is busy and the workload is high.
GPs gain most of the clinical experience they need whilst as undergraduate and then postgraduate medical students. Useful experience could also be gained by getting involved in medical or community rebuilding charity work schemes in disadvantaged areas of the UK or the rest of the world.
A GP’s main employer is the NHS. Although GPs can go into private medical practice, they must have initially worked for the NHS as a GP for one year and as a medical house officer for three. In addition to working from a private practice, GPs may be based in hospital drop-in clinics, stationed with the armed forces or working within local communities on a visiting basis.
In order to reach the upper echelon of salaries, a GP needs to own or part-own their own practice which is generally the aim for most. However, experienced GPs may also move into advisory roles for pharmaceutical companies or hospitals.
Also known as…
- Primary Care Physician
What’s it really like?
Michelle Mckeown, 32 years old, has been working as a GP in Edinburgh for three years. Before qualifying as a GP she worked in various hospital jobs throughout Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Michelle, can you describe to us a typical day in the life of a GP.
I go in at 8.15am and I do paperwork until 9am. From 9am until 10.30am I see patients in an open-access clinic, then I have a tea break for fifteen minutes or so. From 11am until 12pm I see more patients, and then from 12pm until 2pm I do house calls, which usually involves seeing one or two people who are too ill to come into the surgery. Up until 4pm I have an afternoon surgery in the same clinic. From 4.30pm until 5.30pm I do paperwork and any referrals, which means speaking to any other specialist that I might need to. I may need to call patients back if abnormal results show up in their tests and that’s it. Very busy!
What do you like about being a GP?
It’s very flexible as regards time. For example, I have decided to work a four-day week. If I wanted to I could take a pay cut and take less, or work more and get more money. I like the fact that you have a set amount of work to get through for the day, so your day is finished when you go home and there’s nothing hanging over you. I like that you get to interact with lots of different people. I may see about thirty patients a day. After a while you get to build a relationship with patients over time.
Is there anything you don’t like about being a GP?
Personally I dislike time wasters and hypochondriacs. Most of all I don’t like working within the financial constraints of the NHS, having to make a clinical decision which is based on the financial resources available.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about becoming a GP?
As a GP Locum you can travel all around the world and throughout the UK, for several years if you like. The exorbitant GP salaries you hear about in the newspapers refer in general to rich partnerships, so don’t be misled by promises of sky-high salaries. Perhaps the most important thing to remember if you ever become a GP is to treat a person holistically. You often have to look at a person’s whole life to get a complete answer to their problems.
Where do you see yourself going on from here career wise?
The next logical step would be to buy into a partnership where you are equal members of a business and you part-own the business and the premises.
Would you mind telling us how much you earn as a GP?
I currently earn £48,000 a year for a four-day week.