Interview: Let's shout about the benefits of general practice

Variety is the trump card that can attract the best doctors into general practice, according to the new chair of the RCGP's AiT committee.

RCGP AiT committee chair Dr Sophie Lanaghan
RCGP AiT committee chair Dr Sophie Lanaghan

Dr Sophie Lanaghan, who was elected to take on the post in mid-September, believes GPs need to become better at extolling the virtues and range of options available in a GP career to help get more young doctors interested.

Dr Lanaghan is currently undertaking her second year of GP specialty training in Portsmouth. It is unusual to take on the role of AiT committee chair before ST3, but Dr Lanaghan is unfazed She jokes: ‘I’m just a little bit early to the party – story of my life!’

But she was a latecomer to general practice, only deciding on the career late on in her F2 year, after originally working towards obstetrics and gynaecology.

‘I had a bit of a light-bulb moment,’ she says. ‘I sat down and was honest with myself about what I actually enjoyed about my job. I enjoyed all my hospital jobs, but GP was the obvious option that was there all along.

‘I like variety, I like a mixture of sick and well people, the lack of preventive medicine in hospital frustrated me, I wanted a job that was a bit more flexible and autonomous.'

However, she says her decision was met with some criticism. ‘Everyone I told said "that’s a shame, that’s a waste" – there's a real sense it’s something to do as a second choice.'

This is an opinion she is keen to change. ‘I strongly believe we need the best people in general practice. You're working in conditions where you don’t necessarily have the backup of lots of tests or specialist opinions that you can ask for at the drop of a hat and there's the sheer variety of what could come through door. The whole mind-set needs to change.’

Tackling low morale

Dr Lanaghan admits the low morale of the profession nearly discouraged her, as it has succeeded in doing for many of her contemporaries.

Working to turn this around and engaging more trainees will be her priorities during her year-long RCGP post, she says.

‘Everywhere in the NHS there's this sense of extreme tiredness and being beaten down and people feel a bit disillusioned in general practice. It’s difficult to come into that. There are actually lots of things we could be using to promote general practice as a career that we don’t really shout about, and we should.

‘There’s the autonomy of a portfolio career opportunity – I don’t know many of my hospital friends have that opportunity. We’re really good at keeping people in the same place during training, which can be great for domestic reasons, and we’re more receptive to out-of-programme opportunities.

‘You can apply and defer, there are lots of opportunities for fellowships, we’re slightly more adaptive for less-than-fulltime – they're all really great selling points.

‘It is important to talk about the issues, and not sugar coat them – we don’t want to sell a false picture of what being a GP is – but we could get better at saying what we’re good at.’

Variety of options

The variety of options is a positive reason for choosing a career in general practice, she says. This is doubly true at a time when the profession stands on a precipice of change, with new models of working and different types of practice making headway.

While many GPs mourn the inexorable rise of super practices at the expense of traditional partnerships, Dr Lanaghan believes the presence of both is actually a plus for trainees considering their options.

‘I think it’s important to have both,’ she says. 'One of the good things to sell about general practice is there is such a variety – you can be in the rural practice or you can work in a super practice – there's something for everybody.

‘I am open-minded. I would like to experience working in the spectrum of different settings before I make up my mind, and I feel really privileged that I have that opportunity. That’s a really positive thing about general practice – it’s a very broad church.’

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