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For Primary Care| View from the ground

Being a Portfolio GP

View From the Ground, by Dr Toni Hazell 

Next month is the 15th anniversary of the end of my general practice vocational training scheme (GPVTS). If you had asked me then what I would be doing now, the answer would have been clear—after a few years as a salaried GP, I would have become a partner. It was a no-brainer; that was what you did and anything else seemed second best.

In reality, I find myself as a portfolio GP, defined in one article1 as ‘an umbrella term used to describe any GP that has multiple jobs or that does multiple types of work within their working week’. I work two to three sessions as a salaried GP, two sessions a week in the eLearning department of the RCGP, and I am an appraiser. Most of the rest of the time I am a freelance writer and editor, mainly writing medical CPD and working for a variety of organisations. I fit all of this around two children, having discovered that they actually need you more, not less, as they get older.

So how did this happen? How did my clear, straight career path of 15 years ago get so bumpy along the way? It wasn’t a planned decision, more a series of events that took me to where I am now. Having worked full-time for several years and developed a particular interest in sexual and reproductive health, I had my first child and came back salaried at six sessions per week. It was a shock to learn that after childcare, I would take home little more than the minimum wage and with that in mind I started looking for work that I could do at home. I was aware of the rise in online learning and have always been interested in education, so was thrilled to be appointed as an eLearning fellow for the RCGP, a job that I love and from which I have learnt a huge amount. After doing this for a year or so, I plucked up the courage to put myself on LinkedIn and among the totally inappropriate messages (no, I don’t want to work 3 days a week in Brussels or commute to Stockholm on a regular basis!) came some sensible ones and I picked up a few other bits of writing work.

Then came the crunch. I was doing six sessions in general practice, plus my RCGP job and other writing and was feeling the strain. I felt that I was neither a good GP, nor a good parent; something had to give. I took a deep breath and gave up four sessions of general practice to look for more freelance work.

I vividly remember sitting at my laptop on the first Monday morning of my new routine thinking ‘now what?’. That Monday I sent out 20 emails. Three replied, and one offered me some paid work. It went from there and now I have as much work as I can handle, I earn more than I did before and my work-life balance is amazing. A few years ago, I was appointed as an appraiser—I see my role as helping appraisees through revalidation with as little hassle as possible, not nit-picking every last detail, and I find it fascinating to see the variety of careers that people have. I also sit on our local individual funding request panel and I was recently elected to the local medical committee.

I am often asked what advice I would give someone wanting a portfolio career. It’s not really a defined career path and the most important thing is to be flexible. If something interesting comes along, try it. Over the years I have done various roles that I didn’t continue—some were short-term posts, and some I didn’t enjoy, but I have learnt from each one. Build up some savings if you can as it takes ages to get paid for freelance work, and if you are losing paid sick leave then consider insuring against that risk. Don’t give up clinical GP work unless you are absolutely sure that you won’t need it in the future and above all be organised and make sure that you don’t drop any of the balls that you are juggling!