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Career move: practice manager to associate postgraduate dean

1 January 2007

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Glynis Buckle
Associate Postgraduate Dean
Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Rutland Healthcare
Workforce Deanery
Associate Postgraduate Director
Oxford Deanery for Postgraduate Medical and Dental

Glynis works as part of a small team but gets to meet lots of people from around the country (and occasionally the world!). Her working week can be hectic and is often stressful – but it is usually fun. Away from work, Glynis enjoys family time in Devon, reads fantasy novels and supports Arsenal FC and Northampton Saints RFC

I became a practice manager at the end of 1989, almost by accident. I was not really looking for another job (I was employed by the Department of Health and Social Services) but just happened to see the advert in a local paper and thought “I could do that” – this has tended to be the principle on which the rest of my career has been based.

I was fortunate in joining an innovative forward-thinking practice at the time of the original New Contract and then working with them to develop fundholding and research and development, as well as training. I was even more fortunate in also having a champion among the partners who believed passionately in the team approach to healthcare. Consequently, when he was asked to present his ideas I was invariably included as a co-presenter.
My first encounter with a deanery was as a practice manager on training practice accreditation visits. Again, this happened because I knew of four practice managers who were doing this and I thought: “I could do that!” So I asked the GP trainer to put me forward. That was in 1991.

Fifteen years later I still do practice visits, but I now lead for both deaneries on the training practice quality-control processes. I took an active role in giving tutorials to GP registrars within the practice and in teaching practice management to groups of GP registrars at vocational training scheme (VTS) sessions. I became involved in research and development, looking at organisational and educational development in primary care.

I have written a few books and presented some of my work at local, national and international conferences. I became a continuing professional development (CPD) tutor in 2001, completed an MSc degree in 2002, then became a VTS course organiser in 2003.

By mid-2003 I realised my interests lay very much towards education, training and learning. Although not unhappy with practice management, I knew that education was where I really wanted to be. I also felt that, with the advent of Modernising Medical Careers (MMC), there would be many other opportunities on the horizon. In January 2004 I made the leap from practice manager to full-time medical educationalist.

So, what do I do now?
I am an associate postgraduate dean at the Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Rutland (LNR) Healthcare Workforce Deanery and an associate postgraduate director at the Oxford Postgraduate Medical Deanery. The titles differ slightly but the roles are very similar.

In a nutshell, my principal roles are:

  • Lead on quality control of the GP training practices.
  • Deputy director for LNR Foundation School (MMC).
  • Director and tutor on new trainers’ course.

My responsibilities involve:

  • Curriculum planning and delivery across the spectrum of medical students, foundation doctors, GP registrars, GPs and consultants (as educators).
  • Working with colleagues to develop strategic plans.
  • Helping individuals and teams to understand more about themselves through psychometric tools such as the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator.
  • Working with individual doctors who have performance issues.
  • Developing new ideas and projects.

I think I may be unique in that not only do I not have a medical or clinical qualification (I just managed O-Level Biology!), but I also work for two separate postgraduate deaneries. However, the skills that I bring to these posts are not unique, and  practice managers have, and use, many of these skills on a daily basis – for example, organising, negotiating, report writing, dealing with relationships, networking, and developing individuals and teams.

I have had to tune my skills in certain areas. For example:

  • Developing my understanding of teaching and learning by completing a Certificate of Medical Education and a Diploma of Medical Education. I am currently working on a Masters in Medical Education (MMedEd).
  • Developing my understanding of teams and relationships by training in psychometric assessment tools.
  • Developing my leadership skills by gaining a place on the Royal College of General Practitioners’ (RCGP) Leadership Programme.

I was definitely anxious about moving into a field that was dominated by medics. I felt I had to prove myself – but what I soon realised was that I had to value myself. If I valued myself for what I could do and what I could bring to the party that was different from what my medical colleagues were likely to bring, then – so long as I had the necessary skills – other people would value me too.

I honestly feel I am now accepted for what I do and what I am rather than what I am not. You will need to promote yourself – even if you have a champion.

It is not a role for shrinking violets. Having said that, I do not have a naturally outgoing personality. It is something I have had to work at, and was certainly put to the test in my first teaching session on “The learning culture and adult learning theory”, delivered to 20 hospital consultants.

Opportunities for practice managers
Such opportunities for managers still exist, even in this time of changing and often diminishing organisations:

  • Many deaneries use practice managers as part of their visiting teams for training-practice accreditation visits. This is an excellent starting point and enables you to visit other practices, share ideas and widen your network.
  • Management skills and employment issues are a learning requirement for all GP registrars. Your local VTS course organiser is likely to welcome with open arms anyone offering to run these sessions.
  • Some deaneries are developing managers as primary care educators within their practices and are encouraging them to undertake a Certificate in Medical Education.
  • A practice manager with an interest in education can also offer their skills to primary care trusts (PCTs) for CPD sessions – who knows what training doctors and their teams may need as a result of revalidation, licensing and certification for GPs?

The timing will never be perfect, but if you have the opportunity to work outside your normal remit, and it is something you want to do, then my advice is to have a go. You’ll probably find you can do it.

Modernising Medical Careers