GP training: Tips for your ST3 year

Dr Patrice Baptiste shares some tips for GP trainees at the start of their ST3 year.

Dr Patrice Baptiste
Dr Patrice Baptiste

Three years ago I was applying for GP training during my ‘FY3’ year. I applied after a time when I was unsure if I wanted to return to training within the NHS and continue working as a doctor.

I am so glad that I decided to return to training because I have learnt so much, overcome several challenges and developed as a doctor; I’m on my way to becoming a GP. When I reflect on my journey to this point I still can’t believe how quickly I have reached ST3 and how close I am to completing my training. I am immensely proud of all that I have achieved.

As daunting as ST3 can seem, with another major exam standing between you and your CCT, it’s important to realise how much knowledge and experience you possess. Remember that by using your experience you can make a different to patients’ lives and fulfil your role as a GP.

Choose a practice wisely

During my ST1 year I was fortunate enough to be allocated to a very large practice with a significant number of partners who all had something to add to the practice. There were a wide variety of specialties and interests among the healthcare professionals there. I learnt a lot about the demographic and the community services in and around the area.

However, I was able to choose another practice for my ST3 year. I was therefore able to select a much smaller practice in a different area. I wanted to experience another demographic in order to learn about specific conditions affecting that population. I also wanted to experience how a smaller practice operated with one partner instead of seven. There were of course many other reasons but the point here is that you should chose carefully; decide what will help you clinically and professionally at the practice you choose.

Key things to consider include:

  • Meeting the partner(s), your trainer and the remainder of the staff at the practice.
  • What services does the practice offer? For any services they do not offer, where do they refer patients /where are the nearest services?
  • What is their demographic like in terms of medical and social conditions? For example is diabetes or TB prevalent? Is there a high level of poverty and unemployment or affluence?
  • What is the timetable like? Is it flexible in terms of tutorials, teaching opportunities and based on what will happen in reality?
  • What are the opportunities for professional and clinical development?

Learn how to become a GP

My trainer has reinforced the important point of learning how to ‘be a GP’ in your penultimate year. After qualifying you will essentially be on your own making decisions without the safety net of your trainer. Trainees need to begin preparing for this from the start of their training but especially during  ST3.

It’s also important to learn about the wider environment within general practice, such as the financial aspects of general practice, CCGs and local commissioning arrangements, clinical leadership and more. This will not only help you pass the CSA but it will help you when you qualify.

The educational plan

Composing an educational plan with your trainer for your final year is imperative. It sets out what you aim to do month by month and if your targets are not met you can discuss why they weren’t.

An example would be presenting an educational topic to staff or medical students by/during month three. Although it is not meant to be rigid, it does provide structure for both you and your trainer and holds you both jointly responsible for unmet targets and objectives.

We all have areas in our curriculum coverage that we need to improve, so ensure you identify these areas early with your trainer and plan realistic ways of meeting those unmet needs. The Wolverhampton grid can be useful here.

For example, perhaps you haven’t had much experience in paediatrics and therefore have very few cases in this area. Arranging some time in paediatric outpatients, especially hot clinics or sitting in and performing baby checks would be two ways of gaining more experience and meeting those needs.

The CSA

I believe in preparation for just about everything and I am especially keen on preparing early for exams.

It is a good idea to read about the exams before you dive in. Ensure you know how many questions or stations in the exam, how the exams are marked and what others have found useful and not useful when preparing.

How you prepare depends on what works for you. I preferred to work at my own pace alone answering numerous questions and making notes as I went along for the AKT. For the CSA I think it’s obvious that group work is probably more important than independent study. Practising and evaluating yourself through feedback from others is how you will succeed.

Use a variety of resources to study – online materials, books, visual aids and some courses may be useful.

Those are my tips, but above all I would say make sure you enjoy your ST3 year. You have worked exceptionally hard to get here and this is a big step on your way to becoming a qualified, practising GP.

  • Dr Baptiste is an ST3 GP trainee in Essex

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