The difficulty of pinning down the GP's role

Who are you? Or rather how do you define your role as a GP? Government dogsbody, medical front-line pioneer or the NHS's version of King Canute?

This philosophical conundrum was posed by colleagues at France's Le Generaliste magazine (that country's equivalent of GP) to GPs in five European countries. Participants were given five choices: business owner, craftsman, independent expert, artist or scientist.

Independent expert was by far the leading choice, but only in the UK was it the view of more than half of GPs. This perhaps reflects the importance of the gatekeeper role in the UK in comparison to some of the other countries where patients may be able to bypass general practice.

However, the survey results also reveal a certain amount of split personality over how GPs see themselves, with business owner and craftsman virtually tying for second place. German and UK doctors leaned towards the business side of things whilst the French clearly see the craft aspect as important.

And 9 per cent overall saw themselves as artists, presumably moulding healthy specimens out of the clay of human frailty, a poetic vision of dealing with your average heartsink.

At face value this is a frivolous question, placed to give Le Generaliste, and other members of the medical press, a jolly little news story. But the range of answers show how difficult it is to define general practice, and how the GP experience varies from country to country.

GPs are clearly experts and in the UK they are certainly independent, however much some sections of the DoH wish they weren't. But they are also business people - increasingly so - and scientists and practitioners of a craft, which may be why politicians find them so hard to deal with. If we could find a simple definition they could understand, future negotiations could be simpler.

So which category do you fall into? Or do you have another answer that you think is more appropriate. Write to us at

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