GP practice managers oversee and develop the work of a GP surgery, or a group of surgeries. They ensure that the practice runs efficiently for patients, and that the GP's (general practitioners, or family doctors) have the support they need.
A manager's role may include:
Besides these day-to-day responsibilities, practice managers also contribute to the long-term goals of the practice. They may:
Some practice managers run a single surgery. Others manage a group of linked practices.
Practice managers usually lead a team of receptionists, secretaries and medical records staff. In bigger practices they may be supported by an assistant practice manager.
They attend meetings with the practice partners, and work closely with the GP's and other clinicians working on the premises, such as nurses and physiotherapists. They also deal with external contacts in NHS primary care trusts, hospitals and social services.
The job is a varied and demanding one. The roles and responsibilities of practice management increase every year, as NHS primary care expands to meet health demands.
One of the main challenges may be persuading the GP partners to support business changes, while at the same time allowing them to focus mainly on their work with patients.
Most practice managers work a 37-hour week, Monday to Friday. Longer hours may be required to finish specific projects or deal with urgent issues.
Practice managers work within a GP surgery or health centre. They may have their own office but will frequently be working in the administrative and reception areas of the practice.
There may be a requirement to travel between practices or attend external meetings, so a driving licence can be useful.
Salaries for new managers in a small practice start from around £20,000.
There are around 8,000 GP practice managers. They work in all parts of the country.
Competition for posts can be keen. Besides skills and experience, some practices look for a professional qualification, such as the City & Guilds Diploma in primary care management (see training section for details). A degree in a subject such as business or health management may also offer an advantage. However, relevant work experience in the NHS or in business or finance can be equally attractive to employers.
Vacancies are advertised in local press; in specialist publications such as Management in Practice; through recruitment agencies, such as First Practice Management (www.firstpracticemanagement.co.uk); or on the NHS jobs website (www.jobs.nhs.uk).
There are several routes into GP practice management. Some managers work their way up from more junior NHS roles. Others are recruited for their business and management skills after gaining management experience in another sector, such as retail or banking.
It is possible to join a practice at an administrative level, and seek to move into management after gaining experience and qualifications. For junior posts, minimum qualifications are usually four or five GCSE's (A*-C) or equivalent. Those with two or three A levels or equivalent qualifications may be able to start on a higher administrative grade.
The Diploma in business, administration and finance (available in September 2009), may be relevant for this area of work.
Entrants with a degree, or an equivalent vocational qualification, can apply for a junior management post.
For a degree, entry requirements vary. At least two A levels and five GCSE's (A*-C), or equivalent qualifications, are usually required. It is important to check specific entry requirements with individual institutions.
Some practice managers study for management qualifications part time while in post. Practices may also arrange training on specific topics, such as health and safety, negotiation or presentation skills.
A City & Guilds Diploma in primary care management, designed specifically for GP practice managers, is offered by The Association of Medical Secretaries, Practice Managers, Administrators and Receptionists (AMSPAR). Candidates should be educated to Level 3 standard. They must be employed in a health environment, or have an informal attachment to a local GP practice.
The diploma includes modules on the management of staff, healthcare resources, data and communications, processes and patient services, and ethical and legal issues. Successful candidates are eligible for membership of AMSPAR.
A Vocational Training Scheme for practice managers is run by the Institute of Healthcare Management (IHM). The programme combines work-based study with 'action learning', which involves working with a small group of other students. Applicants need to be working in a practice as an assistant practice manager or equivalent. On successful completion, students gain a postgraduate certificate and are entitled to IHM membership.
AMSPAR and the IHM both offer continuing professional development (CPD) for members. These promote learning through conferences, events and training.
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A GP practice manager needs to be:
There is no formal career structure. Advancement may be by moving to a larger practice or group of practices, or into general healthcare management.
Some managers get the opportunity to become partners in their practice alongside GP's. This is open to relatively few managers but opportunities are increasing.
The Association of Medical Secretaries, Practice Managers,
Administrators and Receptionists (AMSPAR), Tavistock House North,
Tavistock Square, London WC1H 9LN
Tel: 020 7387 6005
Institute of Healthcare Management (IHM),
18-21 Morley Street, London SE1 7QZ
Tel: 020 7620 1030
NHS Careers, PO Box 2311, Bristol BS2 2ZX
Tel: 0845 606 0655
BMJ Careers Job Board
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.