What is an average day like?
Most GP surgeries are contracted to be open
and available for patients from 8.30am to 6.30pm, although many GPs
need to be in surgery from before 8am and after 6.30pm. Some also
undertake shifts in the out-of-hours rota or in research. GP
surgery visits have significantly declined over the years, but the
length of time dedicated to seeing patients has increased
proportionately so hours have stayed approximately the same.
The GP’s day is one continuum of activity,
with many decisions taken and much work generated. Appropriate
supporting staff play their part, and many doctors try to meet up
with their colleagues throughout the day to sign letters,
prescriptions and catch up with relevant events. Meetings with
other primary care team members, such as health visitors and
district nurses, are also arranged on a regular basis as
A substantial part of the GP’s work nowadays
is spent managing long term conditions such as:
- Cardiovascular diseases.
- Chronic kidney disease.
GPs regularly need to deal with emotional,
stress-related and other mild to moderate psychiatric illness.
Results of tests must be checked daily, and
with almost universal computer links to the hospital laboratory
this is done via computer, with direct access to the patient’s
clinical record. Actions resulting from the investigations, such as
contacting the patient and changing therapy, are then all
sanctioned by the GP.
Flexibility and the ability to prioritise
workload on the basis of clinical need is the key to being a GP. No
two days are the same and the organisation of the practice is
central to delivering safe high-quality services.
What are the hours like?
A full-time GP will work approximately nine to
ten hours per day, and there is currently the ability to opt out of
out-of-hours care at night and weekends. Some GPs do enjoy taking
part in out-of-hours services, but such arrangements depend on
Where is the work based?
Work is based in the surgery, in the patient’s
home, in homes for the elderly and sometimes in specialist
accommodation for those with chronic disability. In the case of GPs
with special interests, or who act as clinical assistants to
consultant units, patients may be seen in hospital outpatient
clinics or wards.
GPs may work in group practices, health
centres or more infrequently single-handed practices in rural and
inner-city practices. A number have portfolio careers, which
include work in education as medical school teachers and
What people work in the same team?
A wide range of primary care team members work
alongside the GP, making general practice a very enjoyable
specialty. They may be employed by the GP or attached to the
practice, and include:
- Practice-employed nurses
- Practice managers
- Health visitors
- Community nurses
- Occupational therapists
- Speech therapists
- Psychiatric and other specialist nurses
- Community pharmacists are increasingly involved in medicine
Types of patients
Patients are delightfully varied, and of all
age groups, social classes and ethnic groups. The key thing is that
a GP is a generalist, seeing undifferentiated presentations.
Number of patients seen in a day
On average, a GP will typically see 30-40
patients in a day. GPs may make additional contact with
patients through phone calls and email. Prescription queries
and results handling (notifying results) can sometimes double the
total number of patient contacts.
What is most enjoyable?
There are many enjoyable aspects of working as
a GP, including:
- The ability to treat patients as people rather than as
‘diseases’ or ‘cases’
- The experience of building effective, trusting relationships to
provide an extended knowledge of the patient and families
- Dealing with all age groups, types of disease and problems
- Working in the community close to and accessible by
- Working in teams
- The high standard of training
- The systems available for support such as appraisal, clinical
governance and education
- The flexibility and opportunity to innovate and improve
Furthermore, compared with hospital
colleagues, many GPs remain independent contractors and still have
an enviable degree of autonomy. The decision to invest in extra
equipment and new staff remains very much the practice’s
What is most challenging?
Challenging aspects include:
- The undifferentiated nature of many problems presented
- The unpredictable nature of work, as no two days are the
- The need to tolerate uncertainty and make risk assessments
- Demanding complexity and dealing with psycho-social
issues - this may also be very rewarding if done well and
- Keeping up-to-date with the enormous range of diseases and
- The challenge of dealing with complex problems within the
standard ten-minute consultation
Opportunities for flexible working
There are many opportunities for flexible
training. Local education and training boards (LETBs) try
to facilitate requests for flexibility in training within financial
and working constraints. Many GPs opt to work less than
full-time once they have gained entry to the GP register, and
opportunities to continue with flexible working throughout your
career are plentiful.
Opportunities for research and teaching
Research and development (R&D) is carried
out through university departments, NHS research networks and
pharmaceutical companies. There are also opportunities for
undergraduate teaching, postgraduate training and continuing
professional development (CPD) tutoring.
Other career options for GPs:
Opportunities outside of traditional general
- Roles in clinical management, GP appraisal and as a PCT medical
- Royal college work, for example as an examiner, or achieving
the Fellowship of the RCGP (Royal College of General
- As an adviser to PCTs (Primary Care Trust) and other health
- Voluntary work in the community and for charities
- Sessional doctor
- Learning Set Member and Convenor
- Foundation supervisor
- GP trainer
- Programme director
- GP with Special Interest
- Out of hours work
- GP Tutor
- Commissioning lead
- Prison doctor
- Armed forces
What it's like to work in this field
"Having completed various SHO posts, I
responded to an advert to do a GP traineeship (GP registrar post)
in a rural practice and thereafter was completely hooked. As a GP,
I’m able to combine science with personal medicine. I feel I can
support my patients better by living and practising amongst them,
sharing their concerns and understanding their illnesses in
relation to their lives as a whole. Family medicine quickly
revealed itself as a most rewarding ingredient.
"Being part of a primary care team allows
great flexibility, influence over practice policy and a timetable
which enables me to combine GP with hospital sessions and
"Despite the intensity and challenges, it is
possible to have a very reasonable work-life balance, and the
rewards both in human and professional terms have exceeded all my