Medical students need more exposure to general practice to choose GP careers, study warns

More medical students would choose GP specialty training if the NHS increased their opportunities to experience general practice at undergraduate level, researchers have said.

Payments GP practices receive for undergraduate teaching placements ‘no longer reflect the cost' of providing cover for doctors involved in training, researchers have warned.

Funding for GP practices is ‘consistently lower’ than for secondary care services that provide undergraduate placements, they said, and the average amount of clinical contact in general practice medical students receive has fallen since 2008.

A shortage of funding coupled with mounting GP workload means that catering for undergraduate GP placements has become a ‘serious challenge’ for many medical schools, the researchers warned.

GP workforce

An analysis published in the British Journal of General Practice (BJGP), says general practice needs to be ‘championed within the undergraduate curriculum’ and calls for medical schools to ‘respond to changing health patterns and the need for expert generalists’ in the UK workforce.

It recommends ‘urgently’ that more funding should be invested into undergraduate placements in general practice, that academic GPs should be given more prominent roles within medical schools and that the proportion of exam questions set in primary care should be increased.

The researchers said these actions were vital to increase uptake of general practice as a career among medical students, pointing to evidence that undergraduate GP experience has a positive influence on students considering a career in the profession.

They backed calls from a recent House of Commons health select committee report into primary care to move towards a payment mechanism in 2016/17 that reflects the true cost to GP practices of teaching medical students in order to break down barriers to undergraduates being able to access training in general practice.

Medical school reform

‘If the UK is to continue to have a strong GP workforce within a dynamic and internationally regarded primary care service, then medical schools must urgently implement change,’ the researchers said.

‘Medical schools must now recognise the educational value of teaching based in primary care, moving students and resources from the hospital setting whenever learning could take place equally or more appropriately in the community. Funding streams must adapt accordingly

‘As GP educators we strongly support the recommendations of the House of Commons health select committee in relation to undergraduate medical education. The most pressing of these is to move, by the start of academic year 2016/17, to a payment mechanism that reflects the true cost to GP practices of teaching medical students. This will surely be a critical step towards ensuring a viable NHS primary care workforce for the future.’

Health minister Alistair Burt said at the health select committee meeting that the government is ‘working to develop a national payment mechanism for primary care with payments that better reflect the costs of the placements’.

Medical students: Enter our Choosing General Practice competition

Photo: Robert Johns/UNP

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