The RCGP Leadership Programme was launched in 2002 and is designed to develop leadership skills for GPs. The initiative is professionally led and gives GPs the opportunity to shadow the work of leaders in industry and influential figures within the NHS.
After the first three cohorts, with about 60 candidates successfully trained, the RCGP has now put the programme out to tender to a three-strong consortium consisting of the Peninsula Medical School, University of Exeter and OD Partnership Network. Enrolment for the next cohort starts in late spring of this year.
Dr Maureen Baker, RCGP council honorary secretary and ex-chairwoman of the Leadership Programme, believes that some of its success is due to its participants. 'The people who have been through the programme have been very positive about it and they keep in touch. They are a very active group and continue to support each other, which is really quite positive. The doctors themselves have done well and gone on to senior positions.'
Such positions include becoming members of the RCGP council and the GPC.
In addition, some of the participants have become postgraduate deans, taken on roles in management or positions within their PCT, or developed services in their area.
But Dr Baker warns that GPs need to think carefully about participating in the programme. 'It's not something you do on a whim,' she says. 'It requires considerable commitment, but for people who are willing to invest effort in it, it should be worthwhile.'
For participants who decide to join the Leadership Programme, Dr Baker says that there are many benefits. 'They will find out more about their strengths and weaknesses, and about the styles and patterns of work and careers that are suitable for them,' she says.
'They should also learn techniques and methods in career development, and about how they can continue to learn and adapt, so that they can prepare themselves for challenges coming their way.'
One participant from the programme's first cohort is Dr Phil Matthews, a GP from the Gower, near Swansea. Three years on, he is deputy director of postgraduate education for general practice in Wales.
The programme put him in contact with industry leaders he would not otherwise have been able to meet.
'We had contact with people advising on healthcare policies, strategic planning of healthcare, novel approaches to problem solving, horizon scanning and so on,' he says. 'I therefore gained a greater insight into the way healthcare is managed at a higher level.'
One of the fundamental benefits of the programme was keeping in contact with other participants, says Dr Matthews. 'We continue to talk to each other even now, and we are a source of advice and support for each other.'
Dr Matthews adds that another significant benefit of the course was the opportunity to benchmark himself against others. 'It gave us an insight into what people were trying to do with their careers, in terms of management and taking on positions of responsibility. It gave us ideas and contacts, and a feeling that we were doing something that was worthwhile and of importance.'
Dr Matthews says that he strongly advises other GPs to consider taking part in the programme. 'If they feel they want to take their career forward into management roles, then there is no substitute.
'It is particularly good for gaining networking opportunities and learning from other people on the course about how their particular sphere of primary care works, and the lessons that they have learnt.' Dr Jill Edwards, also from the first cohort, is a part-time GP in Oxfordshire and has become an associate director at Oxford deanery since completing the Leadership Programme.
'I have also been leading on the foundation programme for general practice across the deanery,' she adds. 'And I am seconded to the RCGP, where I am medical director of standards and certification.'
Dr Edwards recalls two main aspects that she found especially beneficial.
'There were master classes once a month over the year of the programme,' she says.
'National speakers were invited to talk to us and the whole thing was about expanding our horizons and how this applied to us in medicine, which perhaps we had not thought about before. We met many people we wouldn't normally have come across, but who actually provided an amazing springboard for development.'
The second aspect was that of job shadowing. 'I shadowed Baroness Julia Cumberlege, who was a health minister in the previous government,' says Dr Edwards. 'I went with her to the Royal College of Nursing and the House of Lords, where she was debating, which was absolutely fascinating.'
For Dr Edwards, one of the greatest benefits of the leadership programme was the opportunity to think about things differently. 'It made me realise that I can do almost anything I want,' she says.
'It took away any blinkers I might have had on beforehand and gave me invaluable contact with people across the country, whom I can now telephone at any time. It also provided me with an awareness that opportunities are out there.'
Dr Edwards' partnership is delighted for her to be involved in leadership roles in addition to her work there as a GP. This brings its own advantages to the practice.
'There is the benefit that I am aware of things that are happening nationally, and so we can position ourselves in advance because we can see what is coming, which is always helpful,' says Dr Edwards.
Need for leadership
Dr Baker says that the RCGP recognises the need for leadership in general practice. 'We have supported these courses as a route to help people take on leadership positions in general practice,' she says.
'We are particularly keen that the courses are open to anyone who feels they want to develop themselves in this way, so it is very much intended to be accessible to all GPs.'
- The 2006 Leadership Programme will combine e-learning, residential weekends and tutorials.
- For further information, please contact Kate Tunnicliffe at the RCGP by calling (01925) 242167 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.