I qualified as a GP in 2008 and I am currently a 4-session partner. I am also a GP Fellow, Deputy Clinical Director of a Primary Care Network and GGPET committee member and trustee. These other roles take up 3-4 sessions a week.
I have always wondered “how do other GPs end up in the really inspiring and high-profile roles?”, e.g. being the Clinical Chair of a ICB or being on an influential committee. For me, it started with something very trivial – I found the courage to put my hand up from the audience and ask a challenging question about care navigation at one of the large county-wide ICB events. A couple of weeks later, I was approached by a ICB manager and offered to be the clinical lead for the care navigation pilot across two PCNs. I was unsure initially, with an inner imposter voice telling me that I was not the expert in this field and didn’t deserve the role. Having been changing and improving things at my practice, I was ready for a challenge at a bigger scale. I proved my inner voice wrong.
I thought I needed to build up my CV with more leadership training and attended the NHS@2030 leadership program and General Practice Improvement Leaders course. It was the latter that gave me the confidence to put myself forward for a leadership role in my PCN. I also had some transferable skills from my previous career in medical education.
I totally bought into the concept of the PCNs – the opportunity to do things different, explore asset-based community development, diversify the primary care workforce and allow GPs to work to the top of their licences in more effective ways. At the same time, I also learnt that a great CV and enthusiasm are not necessarily enough to create a niche amongst very well-established circle of leaders. The GP Fellowship post provided an opportunity to get closer to this circle and gave me a platform to be able to apply all the skills, experience and knowledge to influence PCN development beyond my own PCN.
I find it really rewarding to know that we, as a team, have made a difference at the system level, which will impact many more patients’ lives than I can achieve for individuals in my clinical work. I love working as part of a team with shared values; supporting the others to take over from me and do even better.
Of course, there are challenges. Like how long it takes to make even a small change. The real world is messy and complex, and neat self-contained Quality Improvement tools do not necessarily produce the results you expect. I am still learning to pace myself and recognise what is good enough.
Finally, my message to anyone who is thinking about taking on a leadership role. You don’t need to wait until you are the ‘senior’ partner or for some official job advert to land on your desk – you will be waiting for a long time. Start with something really small that you care about – for example, how your reception staff process the medication queries. Find a local leader who you trust and respect and go for a coffee with them. Believe in yourself despite the push-backs.