Career Development - Finding variety in your GP career

A portfolio career will provide satisfaction, writes Dr Raj Thakkar.

The GP registrar year is exciting, busy and dictated by deadlines and assessments. During this year you will be learning new systems and will understand novel concepts.

However, without careful consideration and career planning, life beyond vocational training runs the risk of being dissatisfying and unhappy. Knowing what you want out of your career is not always easy and aspirations may change over time. Part of the tutorial timetable may be dedicated to planning for life as an independent practitioner.

There are many career options open to you and some of these will require preparation well before the year has ended. A portfolio career is just one of many options available.

A portfolio career is having more than one job on the go at a time. For example, a few days of the week could be spent in general practice and another in hospital, perhaps working on the endoscopy unit or with the diabetic team.

Education, media, research, refugee medicine or the medico-legal sector are just a few areas in which doctors work alongside their general practice. The possibilities are endless.

My portfolio consists of being a GP, a media and medical advisor, out-of-hours work, and working in cardiology and echocardiography.

Why have a portfolio career?

Variety is certainly the spice for many doctors. Multiple career interests provide stimulation and reduces the risk of burn-out. Variety may provide a platform for developing a special medical interest or skill that creates a great deal of personal satisfaction.

Many doctors go on to gain postgraduate qualifications in their specialist area and this is great for their appraisal folder.

Developing specialist interests which feature in the GMS contract may make you much more attractive when looking for future post-UTS employment. Research and publications may spin off from your work.

Practical skills

Practical skill development, such as minor surgery or ultrasound, is often seen as a break from the main job. There is ample opportunity to learn practical skills that provide different challenges to general practice.

Aside from the sense of achievement, a different setting can be refreshing and forges links between primary care and other agencies.

Disadvantages

However, there are disadvantages to portfolio careers too. Hospital-based posts are not as financially rewarding per session as general practice. There may be training costs involved and extra reading or qualifications to attain.

Medical indemnity premiums may increase if you are performing procedures in hospital. Some doctors may argue that spending more time away from practice increases the burden on those who are left behind. Many practitioners, however, fill up spare sessions rather than taking time out of their practice.

Look for training opportunities

Some registrars go on to special interests as part of the senior GP registrar scheme. Consider where you want to be and what you want out of your career. Of course, it is sometimes hard to decide on your eventual career. Working as a GP is a dynamic process and, as such, career ideas can change over time. Reflection and discussion with other doctors may help.

It may be worth finding out what the opportunities are for training or working in your local hospital, PCT or other agencies.

If you are interested in medicolegal work, perhaps contacting specialist solicitors or defence organisations is a good step. Medical schools may be in need of lecturers or tutors.

Once you have decided on what you want to do, the next step is to work out how to get there. The organisation you want to work for may have training ideas or programmes and may even finance that education too. PCTs may also subsidise course fees.

Some doctors will choose a parallel career that has little to do with medicine.

Looking beyond the end of the registrar year is vital. Portfolio careers provide the opportunity for a varied working week and develop skills in different branches of medicine and beyond.

Whichever career you choose, planning ahead will open many doors. Leaving it to the last minute may be a recipe for regret.

- Dr Thakkar is a GP in Woodburn Green, Buckinghamshire

LEARNING POINTS

How to develop a portfolio career

1. A portfolio career is having more than one job on the go at a time. For example this can include hospital work, media, medicolegal or education.

2. Portfolio careers provide a platform for developing a special medical interest or skill and creating personal satisfaction.

3. Look beyond the end of the registrar year and investigate ways of developing skills in different branches of medicine.

4. Practical skill gaining is a very distinct advantage; minor surgery is often seen as a break from the main job.

5. Contact your local medical schools which may be in need of lecturers or tutors.

6. Take into account that some aspects of your portfolio career may not be financially rewarding and that your indemnity cover may need to be adjusted.

Resources - RCGP www.rcgp.org.uk

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