Negative perceptions of general practice fuelling recruitment crisis

MORE than three quarters (76 per cent) of medical students report hearing negative comments about general practice from clinicians, educational trainers and/or academics by the time they reach their final year at university, according to a new report from the RCGP and the Medical Schools Council.

Over 3,600 medical students from 30 medical schools across the UK responded to a survey about their career aspirations and the findings have been compiled in a report – Destination GP.

The report found that 70 per cent of students reported hearing derogatory comments about general practice whilst on clinical placements, and 37 per cent of those surveyed reported hearing them at medical school.

The RCGP believes that this is discouraging students from considering a career in general practice and contributing to a major recruitment crisis in primary care.

The College points out that workload in general practice has risen 16 per cent over the last seven years, but the proportion of NHS spending on general practice is less than it was a decade ago with the number of GPs not keeping pace with demand. Recent workforce figures from NHS Digital have shown full-time equivalent GP numbers have dropped over the last six months.

The choice of specialty in medical school is strongly influenced by peers, lecturers and tutors but the report found that:

  • 91 per cent of those surveyed perceived their fellow students to have negative associations with general practice
  • 54 per cent perceived doctors they have encountered on placements in non-GP specialties to be negative about general practice
  • 72 per cent reported a perceived negativity from the current political environment
  • 84 per cent of students by the end of third year believe that doctors and staff on clinical placements have negative associations with general practice.

One student in the study said there was a warning in the introductory lecture of their degree that they could "end up just as a GP", a theme which has continued throughout their studies. Another said that a specialist "seemed worried that I want to be a GP and informed me that I need a lot of patience as a lot of consultations 'aren't proper medicine'".

The College and the Medical Schools Council hope that by highlighting the scale of the problem, more can be done to help break down negative stigmas around general practice and encourage more medical students to go into the profession.

Its recommendations include greater investment into more, high-quality placements in general practice for medical students and for them to have more time in GP placements early on during medical training. It also calls for more investment into GP Societies in medical schools to help students interested in general practice to build resilience against negative attitudes, and to encourage them to champion the profession amongst peers.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the RCGP, said: "These archaic perceptions about general practice that appear to be held by a number of colleagues throughout the NHS need to change, and fast.

"It's so frustrating because being a GP can be the best job in the world when we are given the time and resources to do it properly – it is challenging, intellectually stimulating and full of variety. These are the messages we need to convey. GPs are very important ambassadors for this, and we all have a crucial role to play in influencing the perceptions of medical students, and our peers across medicine."