GP researcher Dr Sharon Spooner set out to celebrate the positives of a career in general practice to combat the ‘bleak’ overriding narrative that GP job satisfaction is ‘at an all-time low’ and the profession in crisis.
Understanding what motivates GPs could help identify ways to improve recruitment and retention levels at a time when one in 10 GP trainee posts are vacant, she argued.
Dr Spooner's research paper Unfashionable tales, published in the British Journal of General Practice, is based on open-ended interviews with eight long-serving GPs to gauge what makes the profession great to those on the front line for over 25 years.
The interviewees, who all graduated in the 1980s, spoke to Dr Spooner for up to two hours about their experiences working in general practice, during which they revealed which aspects of their work were most rewarding and continued to motivate them.
Positives of general practice
‘The purpose of finding positive aspects of a GP’s job isn’t just to counter negative media and policy narratives, but to help inform strategies which make this an appealing career choice and to inform policies which will emphasise appropriate reforms and training,’ said Dr Spooner.
One GP, referred to as ‘George’, said it was ‘a privilege’ to demonstrably earn his patients’ respect and build a rapport with them over a lifetime, a role uniquely filled by their GP.
Long-term engagement with patients was widely valued by the GPs, with another saying, for some patients, he could be the ‘second most important person in their life’.
Many of the GPs praised general practice as a ‘more comfortable place to work, with greater flexibility and a more appealing lifestyle’ compared to hospital work.
‘Alice’, one of the GPs, said the challenge of being the first doctor to assess a new problem was exciting.
She said: ‘I send somebody to hospital and I phone up and I want to know how they are getting on, that kind of adrenaline rush of YES; I got that diagnosis right.’
The study concluded that, despite the widely reported problems in GP workload, recruitment and dissatisfaction, GPs still find ‘fulfilment, excitement and a sense of purpose’ in their role as a GP.
‘These stories are selected from recent biographical narrative accounts in which doctors recounted both positive and negative aspects of their experiences during 25 years of NHS employment,’ it said.
‘In isolation they do not convey complete representations of their careers, but, as integral components of the stories they chose to tell, they encapsulate some of the reasons that GPs continue to work with and for patients.
‘As front-line clinicians, GPs reported fulfilment, excitement, and a sense of purpose, achieved through responding to patients’ needs and offering long-term support.’
Dr Spooner added: ‘The evidence provided by these GPs shows that although it might be unfashionable to say so, general practice can still be a great place to work.’