Developing a GP portfolio career

Portfolio careers are becoming increasingly popular in general practice. Dr Anish Kotecha suggests some possible options GPs can pursue and offers advice on setting out on this new career path.

Teaching medical students is one career option (Photo: asiseeit/Getty Images)

With the current pressures on general practice, many people are finding clinical sessions within the surgery fairly demanding and this carries a high risk of burnout. Developing a portfolio career is becoming a common route for newly-qualified GPs. This can balance a working week as well as providing variety in life.

Each job might require a different skill, so very quickly people might acquire multiple transferable skills – including managerial, leadership and teaching – making them highly employable. These might even enhance patient care within the surgery.

Another advantage is that many non-clinical areas of work can be highly flexible and fit in with childcare and family commitments and even offer the potential to work from home. Some of these roles are quite influential and provide the opportunity to influence how general practice or local services are run, or even lobby government on the profession’s behalf. Others give the breadth of different places to work and allow you to be valued in other teams and situations.

Choosing where to work

When deciding on a portfolio career, there are several opportunities to choose from and its important to find something that suits the your personality, experience and interests.

Some of the following examples can be highly rewarding and bring great job satisfaction. Some typical areas where GPs work as part of a portfolio career include:

  • Working in accident and emergency or out-of-hours
  • Developing a special interest in another area i.e. dermatology, minor surgery, cardiology etc – these might lead to clinical assistant posts within the secondary care sector and/or teaching jobs
  • Medical research
  • Teaching (GP clinical tutor for medical students, or within the university, or supervising foundation year doctors)
  • Working for a charity
  • Pharmaceutical medicine
  • Examining people and completing medico-legal reports for insurance claims
  • Working in a hospice or doing palliative medicine
  • DWP assessor
  • The local deanery, health board or CCG will often advertise posts
  • Medical journalism
  • Becoming a GP trainer or GP appraiser
  • Training programme director within the local deanery
  • Continual professional development co-ordinator or educational lead
  • Taking up GMC posts or giving medico-legal advice
  • Producing or editing podcasts and e-learning modules within the medical education space
  • Running for election on the local medical committee
  • Joining an RCGP faculty
  • Radio or TV interviewing (media work)

How to start your portfolio career

When taking on a portfolio career, it is important to avoid overcommitting to many other jobs and losing interest in the main role. Smaller outside interests can initially take a large proportion of time while training and patience is vital. These extra roles should be tried when spare time is available or instead of a clinical session to avoid getting overwhelmed.

When you are considering the option of diversifying into a portfolio career, the first step is to look at your interests and whether these could be pursued as employment opportunities. Mapping a ‘life plan’ and thinking about one-year, five-year and 10-year aspirations can be a good place to start.

Trying to find a mentor to help can be invaluable. This might be someone who has already pursued a similar route to that of interest so can provide useful contacts. It could equally be someone who has experience of having a portfolio career so can give advise on balancing different work commitments.

Finding a mentor can be difficult and asking someone who is supportive and approachable can be a good start. Most people are surprisingly keen to help or direct you to someone more relevant. Trying to contact the organisation offering a job and asking to speak with someone for some initial advice can be useful. A mentor should be like a trusted friend who is going to guide and steer someone towards their desired goal.

Some of the opportunities listed will need additional training, which might take time and require financial commitments. It is worth doing some research on this initially because this might differentiate those positions that are desirable from others which might not be practical at certain times.

Remembering that ‘general practice is a marathon and not a sprint’ illustrates the notion of pacing oneself within a career and allowing some of these different opportunities to improve quality of life and enjoyment.

How to find possible roles

The best advice on how to further such a career is to always be on the lookout for job adverts and keeping eyes and ears open to different conversations.

Attending different conferences and networking with people from various medical circles will allow an appreciation of what opportunities are available.

Initially offering to complete projects for no fee and making sure the work is of a good standard and done in a timely manner can build confidence among peers and those in positions of seniority. This might often lead to later paid work. It is also important to note that growing a network of contacts and expanding a portfolio of work will in itself likely open other doors.

Within the medical profession, general practice has pioneered the idea of portfolio careers. They can be hugely rewarding by offering a wide variety of experience, enrich your CV and help prevent burnout.

  • Dr Kotecha is a GP in Gwent, South Wales

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