Why general practice needs more young leaders

Next Generation GP is aimed at supporting emerging leaders in general practice. Its founder, GP trainee Dr Nish Manek, who is also deputy chair of the RCGP's AiT committee, explains why leadership skills are important.

Dr Nish Manek (Photo: RCGP/Grainge Photography)
Dr Nish Manek (Photo: RCGP/Grainge Photography)

Why are leadership skills important for GPs in today's NHS?

I think it’s easy to get put off by the word ‘leadership’. We usually associate it with having seniority and titles, but for me it’s just about changing things around you.

General practice offers an incredible opportunity to do this, for three reasons. Firstly, we work in flat hierarchies with lots of autonomy to just get on and do things. Secondly, we have a unique perspective on our patients’ journeys and the determinants of their health. And thirdly, our careers give us so much choice and flexibility to take on leadership roles if we choose to.  

And we have to choose to. There’s almost universal agreement that strong primary care is the foundation of any health system. We need good leaders if it’s going to survive, and to flourish. So I would argue that leadership skills aren’t just important for GPs – it’s part of our responsibility to our patients.

Why did you set up the Next Generation GP scheme?

Last year I was a clinical fellow to the national medical director at NHS England. A couple of months into the role, I had a sense that this was going to change things for me in a way I couldn’t articulate at the time. It was giving me a degree of self-belief and hope for the future that I never had before. I also saw that my understanding of leadership was flawed – you don’t need to wait until you have grey hair and lots of letters after your name to start changing things.

As time went on, I knew I had to find a way to bottle the best bits of this learning and share it with more young leaders. Looking back, it was more a sense that I ‘couldn’t not’ try. I felt sure there were plenty more GPs of my generation who could be energised in the same way I was, if people just invested in them early. So that’s how it started.

Who is it aimed at and what are you trying to achieve?

It’s aimed at trainees and newly-qualified GPs. In terms of what we want to achieve, I’d describe it as a catalyst. I want to give people the same feeling I have: that we don’t have to be recipients of things around us, but participants in creating a better system. I think doing that early on in people’s careers is critical.

We do this in three ways: by empowering people (through giving them some knowledge about the system), engaging them (through meeting other GP enthusiasts at a similar career stage), and energising them (through hearing the stories of senior leaders).

How do you select people to take part in the programme and what does the programme involve?

We didn’t want experience or qualifications to be a barrier. So applicants simply need to explain why they want to be part of it, and what they might use it for going forwards.

The programme consists of a series of evening events spread out over six months. The first half of each evening is a lecture or workshop about a topic that doesn’t usually get covered in our training, such as the structure of the NHS or influencing skills for example, and the second part is an interview with a senior leader.

The interviews are designed to really get to know the person behind their title. We want to hear about their leadership journeys, the mistakes and lessons learnt along the way, and their advice for our generation. 

What sort of feedback do you get from people who have been on the programme?

It’s been overwhelmingly positive across the country, which is so exciting.

I would say the three most common things people tell us are: it gives them self-belief to find and take opportunities to change things around them, it gives them hope that there are other trainees and GPs at their stage who care about this too, and it inspires them to see that senior leaders are ‘real people’ too.

There are people that tell us that the programme saved them from leaving general practice altogether, and so many others have gone on to take up their first ever leadership role.

What are your plans for Next Generation GP going forwards?

I’m so passionate about what we’re doing. Over the last year, the team has expanded to over 20 GP trainees and new GPs who are doing a fantastic job in helping me to lead it across the country. The programme is now in nine cities with more than 420 participants, and we’re still growing.

I’ve been incredibly lucky that a lot of senior leaders backed me from the start and continue to give up their time for this. Without their support Next Gen would never have become what it has. I think they also get energised by listening to the emerging leaders in the room.

It feels like we’ve started a movement here, and one that’s feeding an appetite for change that is so important to the future of general practice. So, my plan is simple - keep going! There’s a whole generation of GP leaders out there who need investing in and I believe this is critical to the future of general practice.

If you are interested in bringing a Next Generation GP programme to your area contact nextgenerationgp@gmail.com

  • Dr Manek is speaking at this year's RCGP annual conference on developing practical leadership skills in GP trainees on Saturday morning. 

Read more from the RCGP annual conference

What GPs think of the programme

‘I honestly believe the people who are part of Next Generation GP will become some of the most prominent future leaders in the NHS as a result,’ says Dr Devon Kennard a second-year GP trainee from London.

‘What I loved about it is wasn’t trying to be a course, or something to fill your portfolio reflecting about, but an honest antithesis to the cynicism and apathy that we too often hear in general practice.

‘I feel more motivated, connected and enabled to be an effective leader in the NHS. And that, in a nutshell, is what this programme is for.'

Dr Chris Castle is a newly-qualified GP, who has developed a patient-facing MSK rehab app called GPEP. He says that Next Generation GP's message that it aims to energise, engage and empower is what resonated with him.

‘I was a new GP partner coming to terms with the demands in workload that this entailed.  However, I was fresh, enthusiastic and wanted to be part of a process of improvement,’ he explains.  ‘I had some ideas. It was clear that among my battle-worn peers there was little appetite for more change, so if my ideas were going to be tested, then I would need to lead. 

‘Attending the Next Generation GP programme was timely. Through listening to the stories of inspiring clinical leaders I gained the courage to engage in my own projects. I was given insight into the vision of how the future of general practice looks from the top and I came to understand my place in it. More importantly, I gained a network of like-minded peers. I believe there has never been a more exciting time to be a GP, and Next Generation GP has been an absolute turning point for me.’

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