GP careers: Teaching undergraduate students

There are now many opportunities to teach medical students in the community. Professor Rodger Charlton explains how you can succeed as a GP teacher.

GPs can teach students in the practice or at the local medical school (Photo: SPL)
GPs can teach students in the practice or at the local medical school (Photo: SPL)

Many medical schools are expanding their curricula to include further GP teaching, as more secondary care moves into primary care and there are plans to increase the GP workforce.

There are therefore many opportunities to teach medical students in the community and at your GP practice. Students may be gaining early clinical experience in their first two years, or may be near the end of their medical degree on an attachment in general practice.

There are two types of GP teacher - those who teach students in their GP practice and those who go to the local medical school to teach, for example, by seminar. Some GPs do both.

How to succeed as a GP teacher
  • Plan your daily schedule before the student comes to your practice.
  • Familiarise yourself with the relevant medical school curriculum.
  • Learn how to carry out different types of assessment.
  • Act as a role model to inspire students to become GPs.
  • Make time between consultations to allow students to ask questions.
  • Negotiate with the team for time to spend with students and/or time away from the practice.

GP teacher as role model

General practice is busy and getting busier, so being a GP teacher means juggling your time. If you have a student attached to your practice, remember they will be watching you very closely as they consider whether to be a GP or a hospital specialist.

Given the need to recruit to the future GP workforce, it is important not to be negative if you are very busy or are having a particularly challenging day.

Your role is to inspire students to consider general practice as a career and it is important to give them a positive experience.

Time commitment

If a firstor second-year student is sitting with you and observing, it is important to give them the chance to ask questions.

If you are running 10-minute consultations, you may need to build in some gaps, so they have an opportunity to ask you questions and you have a chance to question them about patients you have seen.

A student on a final-year attachment may be permitted to run a student surgery, where the student presents the case and any examination they conduct, and the GP teacher sees each patient afterwards.

This will double your consultation time, so you will need to consider running 15- or 20-minute consultations, assuming the student has 30 minutes to see a patient.

You will need to agree with your colleagues that you can see fewer patients, while they see a few more. This work does attract a payment, the Service Increment For Teaching (SIFT), so helps reward your colleagues for their extra work or the use of a locum.

Other activities

A student should never just be a passive learner, but needs to become involved. Each medical school will have a different curriculum, but it is very likely the student will need to be assessed. This could include video consultations and giving feedback, entries into a log diary or e-portfolio, or conducting an audit project and presenting the results.

As the lead GP teacher or tutor for your GP practice, you need to build time into your daily schedule for this and in the same way that you decrease your consultation time, this needs to be planned in advance before the student arrives.

This ensures the student will have a good educational experience and you will not become stressed by the extra workload.

Work at the university

External GP tutors are expected to attend training events, perhaps twice a year, at lunchtime or in the evening.

This needs to be planned in advance so you can take time out to go to the meetings.

Some GPs also work as teaching fellows or lecturers, and go to the local medical school to run seminars, for example, in medical ethics or consultation skills, where students role-play with actors. This may take up half a day or one day a week, but involves time away from the practice and agreement from the team.

The future

Many GP practices are increasing their student teaching work and taking on more than one student at a time.

This requires careful planning and where student groups are given tutorials or seminars at the practice, it may be that the payments the GP receives should go into the practice, to pay for a locum to make up for their time away from work.

GP undergraduate teaching is very rewarding as you prepare the next generation of doctors and students ask lots of stimulating questions.

To do the work well takes time and it can be a fine balance to find that time in a job where it is becoming increasingly precious.

  • Professor Charlton is a GP trainer, Hampton-in-Arden, and director of undergraduate primary care education at the University of Nottingham

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