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Students snub general practice as early as entry to med school

by Jess Hacker
3 September 2021

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Disinterest among students in becoming a GP appears to be present when starting medical school, a study has suggested.

Published in BJGP Open (2 September), the study looked to compare the career intention and influencing factors of students on admission to different medical schools: University of Cambridge, University of East Anglia, and Anglia Ruskin University.

The 483 students, surveyed in autumn 2020, were asked about their perceptions of general practice, how GPs have been represented in the media in the preceding six months, and their experiences on placement and as a patient.

The study found that the phrases least associated with general practice were ‘opportunities for creativity/innovation’ and ‘research/academic opportunities’ while the phrases most associated with general practice were ‘favourable working hours’ and ‘flexibility’, across all three universities.

Among Cambridge students specifically, research and academic opportunities were far more important, and favourable working hours far less important.

Furthermore, the authors found that upon starting their course, Cambridge students declared a ‘significantly lower’ interest in becoming a doctor, and a much lower likelihood of becoming a GP when compared to students from other universities.

These students also showed significantly greater likelihood of choosing non-patient facing careers, such as pathology and public health.

‘Graduates of Oxford and Cambridge are known to have a lower intention to become GPs compared to those of other UK medical schools but whether this is a function of their curricula is not known,’ the authors said.

‘Our findings in Cambridge students suggest this difference is present on entry to medical school and could be explained in part by a much greater desire for research/academic careers.’

Increasing the amount of exposure to general practice at medical school and reducing negativity from students, staff and among the media is key to increasing interest in general practice among medical students, the authors suggested.

This study is the latest to explore NHS England’s GP staffing crisis.

Last week, a major study from the University of Manchester found that GP retention is in a long-term decline, with researchers warning policymakers that support measures must be put in place to stem turnover.

Other research has suggested there is a GP deficit based on deprivation level. In August, a study revealed that the most deprived areas in England had almost one and a half fewer full time equivalent GPs (1.41) per 10,000 patients than the least derived areas.

The Institute for General Practice Management (IGPM) recently told Management in Practice that managers must be alert to recognising and preventing triggers which might lead to a staff member handing in their notice.