This puts her at the front line in terms of the current list of priorities for the profession, with recruitment, retention and revalidation all part of her remit.
The part-time Cardiff GP, who takes up the post in November this year, has direct experience of the recruitment issues facing general practice, having taught undergraduate medical students since 1991.
‘When someone is accepted into medical school, it’s an occasion for great celebration, but everyone expects them to go on and become a great neurologist or other specialist, nobody envisages them becoming a fantastic GP. That underlying snobbery starts very early,’ she says.
‘My main priority will be promoting general practice as a great career to all ages, from schoolchildren to GPs thinking of retiring.’
Early experience of general practice for students
Professor Hawthorne was also director for community learning on the new medical undergraduate programme at Cardiff University from 2012 to 2015, and will be charing a session on the topic at the RCGP annual conference in Glasgow this week.
This patient-centred, community-focused course integrated scholarship and science with clinical medicine from the first year.
‘We found the students became very interested in general practice and set up a GP society. So if we want to change perceptions, it’s all about showing general practice to be as exciting, rewarding and challenging as other medical specialties.’
Further along the career path, Professor Hawthorne sees F1 and F2 doctors as a ‘lost tribe’ who also need special attention.
‘They are transitioning into doctors, working very hard, and have little time to think about their future careers, so they often end up treading water as locums or travelling. We should be getting to them earlier and talking to them about general practice.’
At the same time, she warns, the standard of entry should not be allowed to slip: ‘While we have to try hard to get doctors in, we must at least maintain, or even improve standards, not just open the doors.’
'Immense pressures' on full-time GPs
The maintenance of high standards among practising UK GPs is also high on Professor Hawthorne’s agenda, with the impact of revalidation on working lives a prime concern. ‘The pressures on general practice are immense, and while it’s an incredibly rewarding role, it can also be very draining.
‘We need to keep looking at the revalidation system to ensure it is as streamlined as possible while remaining evidence based, otherwise it just becomes another factor towards burnout. So whatever I can do to make life easier for GPs, I will do, within the boundaries of good practice.’
At home in Cardiff, Professor Hawthorne practises in Butetown, a deprived area in the city’s docks, with a large Somali population.
‘There are people from all over the world and it’s a very exciting place to practise – you never know what’s going to come through the door.
'But it’s not necessarily the biomedical issues that I find challenging in general practice, as much as the patients themselves, what happens in their lives and their responses. Often it just isn’t possible to deal with those issues in 10 minutes.’
Integrated training across healthcare professions
This is partly why Professor Hawthorne was attracted to the academic post she recently took up at the University of Surrey, where she is associate dean for learning and teaching in the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences.
Her role covers all aspects of development and delivery, quality and governance, across the four schools of healthcare sciences, biosciences and medicine, psychology and veterinary medicine.
She is also involved in the development of a new course for physician associates at the university, and working on a potential bid to develop a new medical school.
‘The ethos is that people’s health is not just about the biomedical model. There are all sort of reasons for different disciplines to work and train more closely together in an integrated way.’
Working as part of a community is an essential part of that vision for Professor Hawthorne: ‘I love feeling part of a community and that people know me as a human being as well as a doctor.
‘I have great hopes for the future and see general practice as having a fundamental part to play in the NHS. We are very much needed – just ask the patients.’