Doctor (general practitioner, GP): job description

General practitioners provide confidential patient consultations and initial medical care within a community-based setting.

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With the pressure to spot anything worrying and make the correct decision for further care in an appointment generally lasting ten minutes, the job can be demanding.

What does a GP do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

General practitioners (GPs) have knowledge of a broad range of illnesses, and diagnose and treat patients of all ages.

Typical responsibilities include:

  • patient consultations at home and within the surgery
  • Monitoring patients’ conditions and wellbeing
  • clinical examinations
  • diagnosis and treatment of illnesses/ailments
  • minor surgery
  • carrying out tests to diagnose (eg urine sample testing)
  • health education
  • practice management and administration
  • liaising with other healthcare professionals (eg midwives, pharmacists, health visitors and psychiatrists) as part of multidisciplinary teams
  • occasionally providing emergency care to someone who comes in with a life-threatening condition – until further help arrives
  • With the pressure to spot anything worrying and make the correct decision for further care in an appointment generally lasting ten minutes, the job can be demanding. It is nevertheless rewarding and highly respected and it gives more opportunity for flexible or part-time work than other specialisms. Career advancement is possible via hospital work, research or teaching.

    Typical employers of GPs

    GP partners are self-employed and work for the NHS as independent contractors. Salaried GPs, on the other hand, are employed by the GP practice and earn a predetermined salary according to experience.

    Publications advertising vacancies include GP Online and the website of the British Medical Journal. There are also job listings online via the NHS and the Royal College of General Practitioners.

    Qualification and training required

    It is only possible to qualify as a GP with a medical degree and further training.

    Qualification as a GP is a lengthy process. First you will need to undertake a five-year medical degree which is approved by the General Medical Council. In order to do a medical degree you will usually need a minimum of three A levels in chemistry and either biology, physics or maths, plus another academic subject. You will also be expected to have at least five GCSEs at grades 9 to 7 (A* or A). You may also be asked to complete an aptitude test, such as the biomedical aptitude test (BMAT) or the university clinical aptitude test (UCAT).

    The medical degree is followed by compulsory hospital and general practice-based vocational training through the two-year foundation programme. After speciality training for general practice, which takes a minimum of three years, you may need to undertake exams for entry into the Royal College of General Practitioners.

    Graduates from a non-medical background wishing to become a GP must follow the same route, but can take the shorter, more intensive graduate medical degree. Most universities ask for graduates to possess at least a 2.1 degree, preferably in a scientific subject. A graduate who doesn't match these criteria may still be able to apply after taking an 'access to medicine' course. They must also have good academic references, be highly motivated and possess appropriate personal characteristics such as perseverance and energy.

    Key skills for general practitioners

    • Ability to work long hours, often under pressure
    • Communication skills, including sensitivity and the ability to provide clear explanations
    • Empathy
    • Ability to spot and solve problems, requiring effective decision-making skills
    • Drive to continue learning throughout career
    • Business management skills
    • Ability to work efficiently
    • Organisational ability
    • Attention to detail

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