photo-1Louise Skioldebrand is a partner, appraiser and trainer based in Stowmarket, Suffolk.

After the first round of recruitment only 72% of UK GP training posts were filled, with some areas as low as 36%…. we can look at possible reasons for this; young doctors are having to commit so early to their career choice, younger doctors preferring urban areas, and medical student selection at 18 being so academically skewed that they don’t want to consider GP as a career.

The current crisis has led the West Suffolk GPST scheme trainers to focus on recruitment and have had the privilege of being involved in two workshops led by Richard Mosley and Simon Barrow. They are experts in ‘Employer Brand Management’ and have written books on the subject. The ‘Employer Brand’ is defined as ‘the package of functional, economic and psychological benefits provided by employment and identified with the employing company’. The main role of the brand is to provide a coherent framework for management to simplify and focus priorities, increase productivity and improve recruitment, retention and commitment.

So how can we apply this to general practice?

Let’s look at what we need to focus on:

Employer brands provide a focal point for: Aspiration (eg Royal Shakespeare Company – it’s a company any actor should have on their resume); Identity (World Wildlife Fund – I’m proud to tell people where I work); Engagement (Pret a Manger – I’m committed to going the extra mile); Advocacy (Google – I tell people it’s the coolest place to work); and Trust/Loyalty (Proctor and Gamble – it would take a lot to get me to leave).

The Employer Brand must make sense for current and potential GPs…it is about ensuring reality and not ‘spin’. So what can we do to improve our image and to engage and retain GPs? We must deal with the ‘Brand Busters’ such as increasing workload, falling incomes, possible future seven day working, negative media image and our own cynicism. We should develop an “Employee Value Proposition (EVP)” – this describes the defining qualities you most want to be associated with in the future….

Why should people join us, stay with us and commit to us?

We need to build our brand with a consistent and distinctive message.

We need to have a coherent plan with effective leadership, fix what is holding us back, and deliver the message coherently with everyone on side. Maureen Baker and Chaand Nagpaul are trying their hardest but how can we get long term planning in place whilst political parties use us as footballs?

We need to establish when and how contact can be made at key decision points for students and young doctors, in order to deliver our message and to breed mutual respect. Suggestions such as GP taster weeks for those foundation doctors not doing GP (or perhaps make them compulsory for all specialists?), and more formal development of GPwSI during GP training could broaden appeal.

In the business world, the leading decision factors in retention (as for attraction) are base pay and opportunities for career advancement. Lessons from our Brand workshop included exploring how GPs want to be seen and why general practice is a good career option for junior doctors; we highlighted the holistic approach to patients, the flexible and independent working opportunities, both as a practice and as an individual, for creating a varied working day, week and career.

We discussed stories we could tell about being a GP which might help transform attitudes, such as being there for patients and their families in their hour of need, and the fact that we can influence many working factors including: staff recruitment, the systems we use, and developing a portfolio career. We focused on our locality’s strengths geographically and we looked at the importance of the ‘role model’ we are giving to our families, friends, staff, medical students and junior doctors. We looked at how we could show ourselves as at the centre of respect and trust through our community, by going into schools and talking about our career, and by offering work experience for pupils and medical students.

We explored how to make the profession look “sexy” and highlight the value of primary care – if there was none, the cost to society would be huge. We have special skills which enable cost-effective investigation and management of patients. We need adverts like “my GP saved my life”, repeating the positives.

EVP for GPs

So, going back to Employer Brand Management principles, the EVP for GP could be:

Be a general physician giving holistic care to your patients from cradle to grave, with a varied working day and potential to influence both your working environment, and to develop your career with special interests, management and training opportunities.

‘No patient is the same, no day is the same’.

Let’s eradicate the brand busters and make a career in general practice the first choice for a Foundation doctor!