Choosing General Practice

Pamela Sturges, a second year medical student from Keele, explains how she views GP as a potential career choice.

Becoming a medical student in itself is a great challenge. Getting the highest grades, in addition to finding the best possible work experience and volunteer work, all for a chance (yes, some of it is down to chance) to compete for your place at medical school… But once you’re in, that’s it right?

Not at all. 

A common question posed to medical students by family, friends, patients, tutors, consultants and just about anyone during the five years is ‘What do you want to do when you finish medical school?’.

Many students already made that decision before starting medical school and, to be honest, I too had an idea. For me, however, the answer has changed several times over my first two years here. This is due to the competitive nature amongst peers and the traditional stance that you must be at the top of your class to succeed in certain specialties. I instead chose to stay away from the most competitive areas of medicine, such as surgery, purely because I didn’t understand why we were all fighting to be the top student. Was it for the benefit of patients? Or was it for self-satisfaction?

In the UK, we are always faced with the notion that there are never enough GPs due to emigration or students choosing other more ‘exciting’ specialties. I have always been of the mindset that if you see a need then you should do your best to fulfil that.

However, when choosing a career you must first love what you do. Some of the apprehensions I had about choosing GP training is the lack of variety in patient cases I would encounter on a daily basis. Of course, speaking to other GPs, the message was very different. After all, it is the GP who sees it all before any further referrals are made. Whilst at medical school, I had the opportunity to do some part time work with a GP who is the Clinical Lead for a Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). It was there that I have seen the diversity and varying involvement a GP can have. Being involved in this work has definitely enlightened my understanding of primary care as a whole and the GP’s role in it.

As medical students we hear only about GP’s clinic work and it can be perhaps viewed as ‘boring’. However, the fact that I would be, in most cases, the first point of call for my patients and that I could develop long-standing trusted relations with them as opposed to a one-off meeting at the A&E – are further reasons as to why being a GP appeals. 

Not only is there the opportunity to have autonomy in your role as GP, or to take on leadership roles at a faster pace than other routes, but also there are further specialist routes to explore- becoming a GP with a special interest (GPSI). Now that is something that caught my attention. Pediatrics had always been my go to answer for ‘What do you want to do after medical school?’ In spite of that, various comments about competitiveness and the long training path were slowly dissuading me. But now with hearing about the GPSI it marries two of my career choices. 

As a mature student with family responsibilities, I am also inclined (at least for the moment) to take general practice training road, due to shorter training time and better opportunities for work-life balance.

I still have time to make my final decision regarding my future career, until my clinical years begin next term, but I think it is important to keep an open mind so that you can really appreciate each medical specialty without prejudice.

Pamela gained a BSc (Hons) in Biochemistry with Neuroscience at Keele University (2009) and an MSc in Clinical Biochemistry at the University of Birmingham (2013). She worked as a pre-registration clinical scientist at Heartlands Hospital and then later qualified as a secondary school teacher for Science. Pamela always wanted to study medicine and, having gained experience and knowledge she applied as a mature student. She is now a second year medical student at Keele University.

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