Why GPs should have no trouble finding work

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The Independent Online

Dr Debashis Singh knows how easy it is to get work as a GP. After qualifying in August, she contacted locum agencies "with dynamic, punchy-sounding names". She sent off her CV and the necessary certificates, and got in touch with local practices as well.

She also began writing a blog that she called "Secret diary of a new GP", on the BMJ (British Medical Journal) website. Within a few days, her work schedule was full. "For a GP willing to travel around London," writes Singh, "there is plenty of work available."

England alone needs 7,500 more GPs, according to the British Medical Association. The fact that there are more jobs than GPs means that it's relatively easy to find work, especially in urban areas, although this depends on how flexible you are.

"It's certainly easier than it used to be, it just depends on where and how you want to work," says Dr Bill Reith, a partner in a surgery in Aberdeen, and chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners Postgraduate Training Committee.

Singh has been working as a locum, a freelance form of employment that means short stints at different practices. Other GPs work as salaried GPs for a practice or Primary Care Trust, attending to patients without the responsibility of running a practice. Then there are GP principals who are contracted by a local health authority and work within a partnership (as most GPs do).

There are various ways to find work. Most GPs find out about jobs via word of mouth during the final stages of training. You could also look at adverts in professional journals and in the free weekly newspapers sent to GP surgeries. There are also websites advertising primary care jobs (health-care jobs outside a hospital setting), including the BMJ site ( www.bmjcareers.com) and the NHS site ( www.jobs.nhs.uk).

But it's not just doctors that GP surgeries need. Other team members include practice managers and nurses, health visitors and midwives, administrators, secretaries and receptionists. The role of practice manager is becoming increasingly important.

While a GP's job is to care for patients, a practice manager runs the business side of things, working either for a single practice or looking after several smaller surgeries.

This means being responsible for the administrative staff, the appointments system, finances, supplies of drugs and equipment, and even organising the cleaning and security.

The backgrounds of practice managers vary - some may be former bank managers, others may have worked elsewhere in the NHS. Salaries range from around £15,000 to £50,000 a year. (Full-time GPs can earn up to £250,000 a year, but the average salary is £100,000).

Another essential team member is that of practice nurse. The job includes treating small injuries, health screening, family planning and health-promotion programmes. You need to be a qualified and registered nurse, and then take further training. Average NHS salaries start at around £19,000 a year, rising to £30,000 with experience.

GP surgeries also need medical receptionists, who need to be friendly and efficient, as they are usually the first person that a patient sees.

The job covers organising appointments, filing medical records and dealing with mail. Salaries in the NHS range from around £11,879 to £14,730 a year. There are no formal entry requirements, and training is on the job, but qualifications are offered by the Association of Medical Secretaries, Practice Managers, Administrators and Receptionists.

Vacancies for these jobs are more likely to be found in local papers than in national journals, says Dr Reith. But there is a new website, www.findprimarycarejobs.com, the brainchild of Dr Mark Wells, a GP partner in a south- London practice. "We're the only site to specialise in primary care jobs," says Graham Palmer, Wells's business partner. "In the past, surgeries that needed a practice manager didn't really know where to advertise."

In addition, you don't need to register to use the site (unlike many job websites, which require you to provide your name, e-mail address and phone number before you even start searching for a job).

"We offer other benefits, too," says Dr Wells. "Because many GPs may have to move area to find a job, we have a link that tells you about local house prices, schools, and so on."

So, if you fancy living and working in an area where incomes are high, you might apply for the post of practice nurse at a surgery in Surrey. If you can afford skiing holidays on a nurse's salary, you'll fit right in.

Then again, if you would prefer to work in a variety of neighbourhoods, you could always register with a locum agency, just as Dr Debashis Singh did.

Useful websites: www.bmjcareers.com; www.jobs.nhs.uk; www.findprimarycarejobs.com

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