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GP career choice is associated with undergraduate GP exposure

Published on: 28 February 2017

Universities urgently need to address the current GP recruitment crisis by giving students more exposure to primary care, new research has revealed.

For the first time, the Newcastle University-led study has found a link between the amount of GP teaching a medical school offers and the number of students who go into GP training after their foundation years as a doctor.

Data for the study published today in the British Journal of General Practice was collated from all medical schools in the UK and shows the need for students to be taught in GP surgeries.

It is suggested that more time should be spent teaching students in a GP practice with patient contact, in contrast to non-clinical sessions like group tutorials at a medical school.  

Young GP examining a child patient

Recruitment crisis

There is currently a recruitment and retention crisis of GPs in the UK, and the Department of Health has set a target of 50% of postgraduate medical training places to be allocated to General Practice.

However, the proportion of UK medical graduates who intend to become a family doctor is well below this target and the numbers are worryingly decreasing year on year.

Only 16.4% of foundation year 2 doctors were appointed to GP training in 2016, compared to 17.4% in 2015 and 20.6% in 2014.

Data from the UK Foundation Programme Office shows that new medical schools that included a larger proportion of primary care experience as part of their training saw up to 30% of students becoming a GP.

Whereas universities where students had much less opportunities to train in GP surgeries saw as little as 7% of students going into this profession.

Increase primary care training

Dr Hugh Alberti, Sub Dean for Primary and Community care at Newcastle University, led the study and believes universities urgently need to consider means to increase primary care training for students.

Later this year, Newcastle University will begin a new medical school curriculum in which students will be given significantly more time in General Practice than the previous course structure.

Dr Alberti said: “Our research found that medical schools that offer high amounts of teaching in General Practice produce higher proportions of students who go straight into GP training.

“There is a current GP recruitment crisis with many GP training places going unfilled. In order to reflect the changing landscape, universities need to adapt their courses to include more General Practice. 

“Medical schools are known to produce different numbers of students becoming GPs, but this is the first time a link between time as an undergraduate and likelihood of becoming a GP has been shown.

“If as a society we deem that GPs are important for our NHS, then this research suggests we should encourage medical schools to increase the amount of time that students spend training in this area.”

Medical schools’ duty

Traditionally the majority of undergraduate medical education in the UK occurs in a hospital setting.     

This study concludes that medical schools need to seriously consider their role in addressing NHS service needs, the GP recruitment crisis, and the contributions they make through revising their courses.

Dr Alberti added: “Undergraduate medical education influences student career choice, and it is important universities accept that they have a responsibility to promote General Practice as a career.”

Future research is required to explore the impact of students being taught in a GP surgery with patients in contrast to non-clinical sessions such as group tutorials.


Exposure of undergraduates to authentic GP teaching and subsequent entry to GP training: a quantitative study of UK medical schools

Hugh Alberti, Hannah Randles, Alex Harding and Robert McKinley

British Journal of General Practice


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