We are always looking for new challenges and despite having two degrees already; bachelor of medicine and bachelor of surgery, us GPs get attacks of ‘diplomatosis’ gaining our MRCGP and possibly the Diploma of Child Health (DCH) and DRCOG.
After that we consolidate for a while and then many GPs will decide to undertake a masters.
What can I do a masters degree in?
Basically anything. It could be sports medicine, medical education, surgery or a research dissertation such as an MPhil. Some people might decide they want to study in the humanities or an MSc in primary care.
It is usually because you want to gain 'mastery' of a particular subject and so be knowledgable in that area. The difference between a masters and a doctorate is that both require mastery, but a doctorate requires original research. And so thinking of an MD or a PhD is another subject.
What is required to undetake a masters?
In a word, dedication. With that comes your spare time and an enthusiasm for further study.
Most masters degrees have taught modules and so you move from certificate level to diploma level to masters level. Depending on the university you choose you can space this out from one year full time to several years part-time.
The third year of study part-time usually requires a dissertation or thesis and some research on the subject.
Writing a dissertation (thesis)
Universities will differ on the number of words that make up a dissertation, but one is talking of a substantial piece of work and one that will take up a lot of your time, particularly if you have not undertaken any major writing for a number of years.
Check that the course you enroll on will provide good supervision and that there is someone you can seek help from. You will need to undertake a critical review of the literature on the subject and it will be a bit like a project from medical school days. But it will be a bound volume of 10,000 words or more divided into introduction (literature review), method, results, discussion and conclusion sections, like a short book.
As most masters degrees involve modules as well as a dissertation, at end of each module you will need to complete a short essay or assignment. The whole degree it requires a lot of forward thinking and organisation. Your assignments are like essays and they will count towards your degree and require a lot of work and getting used to writing again. Each assignment will require preparation but hopefully you will pass them and get some useful feedback.
Doing a masters can be expensive and there are some topics, such as medical education, that you may be able to get financial assistance with if you work at a university or are a GP trainer.
Be realistic about what is involved in studying. Look at when you will have to attend for teaching sessions or if there are residential courses that might take place at weekends. Can you fit these into your otherwise very demanding and busy life?
You may also need some time out of practice. Have you talked to the other doctors about what you are intending to do?
Finishing the degree
You will need a patient partner and children (if you have them), particularly towards the end of your degree when you are writing up. They will need to be understanding and willing to give you space, so when you enroll don't undertake the course lightly.
The decision to undertake a masters will be primarily due to a desire to further your knowledge and expertise in a particular area. It will be hard work, but ultimately when it is completed will give you a feeling of great satisfaction. Good luck.
- Professor Rodger Charlton is a GP in the West Midlands and Professor of Primary Care Education, University of Nottingham