Private practice can be basically defined as existing when a patient agrees to pay a doctor for professional services.
Every sphere of medicine within the NHS is replicated in private practice and all GMC registered doctors may practise privately, subject to NHS contractual obligations.
An inside look
Private practice GP
What factors influenced your decision to choose this branch of medicine?
I did not really choose. I was working in NHS GP in an inner city practice - too many social problems and minor illnesses and not enough solid general physicianship, so I took an opportunity to try six months with a colleague in private, non-specialist practice and 23 years later I am still there.
What are the hours like? How intensive is your work schedule?
I work from 8.15 to 20.15 in my office. From 8.15 to 18.00 we see patients every 15 to 60 minutes depending on type of consultation. After 18.00 I am writing, e-mailing, phoning. Sometimes I go to lectures, sometimes to particular meetings e.g. IDF meetings. Mostly it's reports and insurance work and communicating. On average I see 15 cases a day Mon to Fri.
Is there scope for flexibility, for example part-time work?
Part-time work is feasible though demand for attention makes it difficult to achieve. Private practice is easier working in a large practice.
What are the highlights and advantages of working in this specialty?
Highly educated, intelligent, articulate patients. Sometimes dealing with high profile 'celebrities' and meeting people from all over the world. There are often very interesting and challenging medical problems plus access to the best diagnostic facilities money can buy. Also, working in a community of some of the best doctors in England.
…and the challenges and disadvantages?
Complex problems that have to be sorted out in a short space of time. Needing to be accessible and available to patients at nearly all hours of the day. Being a company doctor means dealing with company managers who don't always take advice well and who are not efficient. Being a private doctor can be isolating and there is a lot of bureaucracy and box ticking to complete.
What are the routine aspects, if any, of your role?
There are several routines - routine check ups, routine insurance examinations, routine reports to circulate, routine notifications and documentation.
…and the more unusual experiences to date?
Very rarely I am paid to attend patients abroad - I have visited Switzerland and Greece on medical matters. Infrequently but less rarely I have seen and examined patients on TV and film sets and in theatres. It is interesting dealing with Hollywood and tour promotions/managers - very demanding at times.
Please describe your duties in a typical day.
History, examinations, investigations, advice and prescription. Formulate and dictate reports and advice for patients, HR departments and GPs. Write referral letters. Read reports back from specialists. Read and analyse past reports and other investigation results. Answer e-mail enquiries and make phone calls. Deal with legal issues related to work for IDF and BMA. Plan diary to fit in committees, CME, holidays and personal commitments, arrange and attend practice meetings, oversee business activities and compliance regulations.
What are the necessary personality characteristics for this career?
Stamina, ambition, determination, self-discipline, good leadership, well organised and efficient.
What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in this branch of medicine?
It is very rewarding, very variable but very hard work. If you want a more simple, more easy and relaxed professional life stick to being a NHS GP.
How competitive is this specialty?
Fairly competitive. However I know all my 'rivals' and we all get on together and support each other.
In private practice we used to earn more than our NHS counterparts but worked less hard and we used to be more or less autonomous. Now, NHS GPs earn roughly the same but have a lot more assistance and resources so hours are shorter. Scrutiny and regulation are about the same for us all. The bonus in private practice is more time with your patients and better access to (personal) secondary care.