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For most people, general practitioners (GPs) are their first point of contact with the National Health Service (NHS). GPs diagnose and treat a wide range of health conditions that can have physical, emotional or social causes. They talk to patients and examine them in order to diagnose their condition. They may prescribe medicine or treatment, perform minor surgery, or advise patients on health issues. They also decide whether a patient needs to be referred to other healthcare professionals for further investigations or treatment.
GPs also promote healthy lifestyles and the prevention of illness. This can include conducting programmes of health screening and flu vaccinations. They may also run specialist clinics for patients with specific conditions, such as diabetes.
GPs' working hours vary and may include some weekday, evening and Saturday morning work. Some GPs provide out-of-hours cover. Part-time work and flexible working are increasingly common. GPs work indoors in doctors' surgeries, but also travel locally to visit patients at home and to attend meetings.
GPs in specialty training earn between £29,411 and £46,246 a year. This may be increased by "banding supplements". Salaried GPs earn between £53,249 and £80,354 a year. Self-employed GPs generally earn between £90,000 and £130,000.
A GP should:
- have excellent communication skills
- be able to work under pressure and make decisions
- be interested in science, healthcare and the well-being of patients.
There are around 34,000 GPs working for the NHS in England. Some run their own practices (usually in partnership with other doctors). Others are salaried or work as locums (temporary staff covering holidays and sickness). GPs may work in a variety of settings, from rural practices to inner city practices. There is a shortage of GPs in some areas. Outside the NHS there are some opportunities with other organisations, such as the armed forces.
To become a GP, it is first necessary to study for a degree in medicine and qualify as a doctor. Medical degrees normally take five years, although there are some four-year and six-year courses. For more general information about becoming a doctor, see Doctor.
When doctors have completed their medical degree they undertake a two-year foundation programme of general training. Towards the end of the programme they decide whether to train as a GP or in one of the hospital-based specialties.
Specialty training for general practice takes three years. It usually involves placements lasting at least 24 months in a hospital setting and at least 12 months in general practice. Completion of this training leads to entry to the GP register.
GPs are expected to keep their skills and knowledge up to date throughout their careers. Many work towards becoming a GP with a Special Interest (GPwSI). This involves extending their skills in areas such as minor surgery, drug misuse, sexual health or diabetes. Some move into GP education and training.
Royal College of General Practitioners, 14 Princes Gate, Hyde Park, London SW7 1PU. 0845 456 4041. Website: www.rcgp.org.uk