How To Become A GP: A Career Guide

General practitioners (GPs) form a vital part of any healthcare system, acting as a first point of contact when people have health worries and conditions. Families trust their GPs, relying upon their expertise and compassion when it’s needed most.

Around the world, the role of the GP is universally seen as a respected and rewarding career that many aspire to. So how can you become a GP?

What is a GP?

GPs lead a team of healthcare professionals at a practice or surgery, which caters to the physical, mental and social health needs of the surrounding neighbourhood. Some GPs may work out of hospitals or urgent care centres, and all GPs carry out home visits to patients who are unable to visit surgeries.

Here are some of the primary duties of a GP:

  • Conducting clinical examinations of patients
  • Carrying out tests and analysing results from tests to inform diagnoses
  • Discussing health issues with patients and diagnosing them based upon their medical history
  • Advising and giving patients information on how to prevent health problems
  • Prescribing medicines
  • Performing minor surgery
  • Referring patients to a specialist service at a clinic or hospital
  • Monitoring and care for any long-term health problems

GPs play a pivotal role in multidisciplinary teams, alongside nurses, midwives, health visitors, pharmacists, physician associates, psychiatrists and care of the elderly specialists. These teams meet to discuss cases and plan packages of care for individuals. Allied to this, GPs have a duty to safeguard the welfare of vulnerable children and adults, raising any concerns with the relevant agency.

As trained medical professionals, GPs may occasionally be called upon to help patients in life-threatening situations, until an ambulance arrives at the scene.

There are various types of GP, including salaried, locum and partner GPs. Salaried GPs are attached permanently to a particular surgery, whereas locum GPs change practices from time to time, helping to meet demand. Partner – or principal – GPs have a stake in the financial fortunes of a practice and, therefore, more influence over its future direction.

If you want to learn more about day-to-day life as a GP, here’s some useful insight from the NHS.

How long does it take to become a GP?

The role of the GP requires a wide variety of skills, involves a great deal of responsibility and inspires considerable trust from patients. It’s natural then, that it takes dedication and a substantial commitment of time to become a GP, during which you’ll gain extensive medical knowledge and experience.

In the UK, it takes a minimum of 10 years to become a GP, beginning at university.

What qualifications do you need to become a GP?

All GPs in the UK must have a medical degree recognised by the General Medical Council (GMC), from an approved list of universities. To gain entry onto one of these degree courses, you’ll normally need the following qualifications:

  • Seven GCSEs, including sciences: five subjects at grades 9 to 7 (A* or A) and a minimum of grade 6 to 5 (B) in English and maths
  • Three A-levels at grade A: in chemistry and either biology, physics or maths, as well as another academic subject

After graduating from university, you’ll then take a two-year foundation course, before beginning three years of specialist training. This includes:

  • 18-24 months in specialty registrar roles such as paediatrics, accident and emergency, obstetrics and gynaecology, psychiatry or geriatric medicine
  • 12-18 months as a GP specialty registrar, working in general practice, to prepare you for life as a GP

Before you can practice as a GP, you must gain Membership of the Royal College of General Practitioners (MRCGP). They will issue a certificate of completion for your specialty training (CCT) in general practice by the GMC. You can then go on the GMC's GP register and the NHS England Medical Performers List – and hold a licence to practise.

How much does a GP earn?

Reflecting their high level of knowledge and expertise – as well as their value to society – GPs are able to command lucrative salaries.

Depending upon where in the UK they work, salaried GPs earn a minimum of £58,205 per year, with pay rising to over £93,000.

Independent GPs who run their own practices have more autonomy in all aspects of the job, including their salaries.

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