Extra general practice placements make students more likely to choose GP career

Increasing training time in general practice placements is associated with more medical students choosing GP careers and could help solve the workforce crisis, groundbreaking research has shown.

Findings published in the BJGP prove a link between the amount of time spent in general practice during training and later career destination ‘for the first time in the UK’ – a link that was previously only presumed, the authors said.

They called on medical schools to 'urgently' consider increasing the amount of 'authentic contact time' in primary care students are given within their curriculum.

GPonline reported earlier this month that one medical school, at the University of Cambridge, managed to more than triple its output of GP trainees in just one year, an improvement the school attributed to giving students greater exposure to general practice.

Investigation by GPonline found that medical students at the University of Keele – which last year produced a higher proportion of GP trainees than any other medical school in the UK – spend 23 full weeks in general practice across years three to five.

Over a quarter (26%) of F2 leavers from the school going directly into specialty training opted for GP training in 2016.

At the University of Manchester – which produced the lowest proportion of GPs – students spend half this time in general practice, totalling 12 weeks across years four and five. Only 8% of its F2 leavers going into specialty training went into GP training.

GP training placements

Results of the current study suggest that increased use of and investment in undergraduate GP placements ‘would help ensure that the UK meets its target of 50% of medical graduates entering general practice’, its authors said.

This target has been consistently missed year-on-year, and the number of students opting for GP careers has actually been decreasing, falling from 21% in 2014 to under 18% in 2015.

The researchers asked all 32 medical schools in the UK via email how much exposure to general practice students enrolling in 2007 and 2008 were given throughout their undergraduate and foundation training.

Responses were then compared with Foundation Programme Office reports from 2014 and 2015, which detailed what this cohort chose to do after completing foundation training.

Two schools were excluded from the final results – one because it was a new school with no available data on foundation leavers and the other because it was a graduate entry-only school.

GP workforce

They found the association between time spent training in general practice and later career choice had a correlation coefficient of 0.41 in 2014 leavers and 0.3 in 2015 leavers – with a number between 0 and 1 representing a positive correlation.

‘In order to reflect the changing landscape of healthcare, universities need to urgently consider means to increase the amount of primary care exposure within their curriculum,’ the authors said.

‘This study suggests that an increased percentage of medical undergraduate funding should be directed towards general practice placements to address the crisis in recruitment to primary medical care.

‘Furthermore, because of the uncertain and complex funding arrangements currently in place within medical schools, the authors recommend that this money be ring-fenced to ensure that it reaches its intended destination safely.’

Photo: iStock

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