My life as a Portfolio GP
What stage of your training are you in?
I am a qualified GP. I passed MRCGP in 2008, and have been working as a GP since then.
Where are you based?
I’m based in Dorset, but I work all around the world – namely Cyprus, Kenya, Uganda, Brunei, Sierra Leone, and Nambia.
What stage did you decide on your speciality? What other specialities were you considering?
Originally I wanted to be an Ophthalmologist, but due to lack of placements on training schemes at the time I put the idea on hold after PRHO year and did some standalone SHO jobs (oncology and ENT).
It was during that year I decided that I did not want to spend the rest of my life working in hospital, so I applied for GP VTS.
What brought you to your decision?
Mainly work-life balance – wanting to avoid weekends and nights. I also wanted the flexibility to see patients from different specialties.
How did you get involved in working as a doctor outside the NHS and abroad? Any particularly memorable experiences?
Initially, it happened by accident, as has been the case for a lot of my career!
When I finished GP registrar jobs, there were no regular GP jobs going that I liked the look of, so I decided to locum for a while. I was contacted by an agency asking if I would consider “non-regular” GP jobs, so started locuming in prisons and military bases.
How have you found the exams so far? How did you revise for them?
GP exams were okay. I found the CSA a bit worrying as we were the first year to do it, but once in the room it was actually quite fun, and time went so quickly I didn’t have a chance to get nervous.
As the exams were new, there were no revision sites online that were particularly helpful, so we just had to improvise revision from the curriculum. After that year I promised myself I would never do exams again, but over the past two years I ended up passing my Diploma in Sports and Exercise Medicine, and I’m now studying for my Diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
How is your day job split up?
My job varies quite a bit depending on what I am doing at the time, but in my most recent job my mornings were a mix of regular GP patients, with longer slots available for occupational and sports fitness medicals. In the afternoons and nights, I cover the local ambulance service, providing all emergency medical and trauma care as a rapid response physician.
I also get time set aside each week to teach nurses, physios, students and other doctors.
What aspects of being a GP have you enjoyed the most? What has been hard?
The hardest bit was the constant influx of patients every 10 mins without breaks etc. Now that I have changed jobs, it’s no longer an issue.
The thing I enjoy most is having the flexibility to control my own career and timetable.
What’s the best thing about being a GP?
Seeing patients of all backgrounds, and feeling that I make a positive impact in their lives. I really get that direct face-to-face interaction with them.
What’s the worst thing about being a GP?
Lack of recognition by some other specialties. I may be “only a GP” in their words, but I have been hugely successful in my career and wouldn’t want to do anything else. Effectively I am a “consultant in family medicine” and wish other doctors would recognise that.
Could you share with us your most challenging moment as a GP?
My most challenging moment was actually during training. I became quite unwell and had to take time off. My personal supervisor implied that if I wasn’t well enough to complete my training how did I ever expect to complete a career as a GP?
It took some doing, but I completed and am pleased to have been able to prove him wrong. I am now massively sought after in my field, and in patient and staff surveys consistently I score in the top 1% nationally.
What do you think are the most critical personality traits that a doctor should possess for a career in GP?
Empathy, enthusiasm and dedication. And the ability to make time for yourself, above all.
Some senior GPs may say that the GP training programme is not long enough to get a broad-enough experience in the 3 years of training, what do you think about this?
The purpose of VTS is not to learn every fact about every condition that could come through the door. If that was the case, training schemes would have to be 20 years! The biggest parts of training are practising safely and risk management. 3 years is fine.
Another concern of many trainees is that General Practice doesn’t offer the same research and academic opportunities in comparison to hospital specialties. What are your thoughts on this?
It’s true that the majority of research is done by hospital docs rather than GPs. This is not because of lack of opportunity – if you look around there are plenty of chances. Finding the opportunity does, however, require you to become more specialised within your GP field. The biggest bar to GPs publishing though is themselves – many people just don’t think anyone would be interested in what they have to say. They couldn’t be more wrong!
Do you think this is a good time to train as a GP?
I think now is a great time. Jobs are easily available and new MRCGP has been around long enough that it’s well-established and easier to study for.
What inspired you to become a portfolio GP? How do you organise your time?
Mainly as I can never decide on one thing to do, and get bored easily. I strongly believe that doctors who do just one job are more likely to suffer burnout. Portfolio gives you the chance to constantly reinvent yourself and stay fresh and interested. Time management can be an issue, though. The biggest challenge is making time for yourself as there can be a strong temptation to grab all the work you can get in case it dries up at a later date. In reality, this NEVER happens!
What’s your number one piece of advice to junior doctors who are considering applying for GP training?
Do it! It gives you the opportunity to do so many other things than some hospital specialties. Being a regular GP does not have to be the endpoint of your career. It can be a springboard to so many other opportunities.