General Practitioner Roles (With Responsibilities)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 22 October 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A general practitioner (GP) is a qualified medical professional who provides patient consultations and has the training and knowledge to diagnose and treat minor and chronic ailments. Working as a GP can be a rewarding career choice, giving you many opportunities to earn a high salary and help people manage and overcome illnesses. By learning about the roles and responsibilities of a GP, you can gain an informed opinion on whether it's a career that's right for you. In this article, we discuss general practitioner roles, describe some of their responsibilities and outline several skills that can benefit you.

Related: How Long Does It Take to Become a Doctor? (With Salaries)

General practitioner roles

A general practitioner's role can vary depending on their specialisation and the needs of the private practice, surgery or clinic where they work. For example, a clinic might specialise in minor surgical procedures, requiring GPs with knowledge and skills in wound management, insertion and removal of contraceptive implants and other procedural expertise required to perform in the clinic's roles. Whereas a private practice in a suburban area might specialise in chronic healthcare and preventative care methods, requiring GPs for diagnostic, health and nutrition and coordinator roles. Here are some common GP roles:

  • Care coordinator: A GP can act as a care coordinator, which often involves creating a care plan for patients with specific or complex needs, such as senior citizens or individuals with a physical or mental disability. GPs in this role also regularly coordinate with other specialist practitioners who care for their patients, such as neurologists or psychiatrists, to discuss information that can help both parties provide their patients with greater treatment.

  • Palliative care provider: GPs in a palliative care role help relieve the suffering of patients with a severe or terminal illness. This can involve travelling to patients' homes to provide them with medications and treatment to improve their quality of life.

  • Work-related injury management: GPs with a specialist interest in employee compensation can help advise patients how to document their injuries and symptoms correctly and organise progress certificates for their employer and insurer, which outline when the individual can physically return to work. GPs who occupy this role may also manage a patient's injury by prescribing them medications and providing them with a referral to see a specialist practitioner who can treat their injury or condition.

  • Family practice provider: A GP in a family practice role provides medical care to all the members of a family. This can involve developing a positive connection with a family and providing each member with treatment plans, prescriptions and specialist referrals when they're unwell or require medical advice.

  • Mentorship role: Senior and experienced GPs can assume the role of mentor for GPs who have recently finished their medical training. GPs in a mentor role can oversee the work of inexperienced GPs and provide them with ongoing support and guidance to ensure they develop the knowledge and skills required to provide their patients with a quality standard of care.

Related: What Is a Mentor and How Can It Improve Your Career?

Responsibilities of a GP

If you're interested in pursuing a career as a GP, here are some responsibilities you may perform in the role:

Diagnose illnesses

Diagnosing illnesses is one of the most common responsibilities GPs perform daily. Throughout a day, you might see as many as 20 patients, depending on the practice and each may have a variety of different symptoms.

GPs typically diagnose a patient's condition by first asking them a range of questions relating to their physical or mental health, such as 'What symptoms are you experiencing?', 'Are you currently taking any medications?' or 'How long have you been experiencing these issues?'. From here, they often use appropriate tools, such as a stethoscope, ophthalmoscopy, otoscope, blood pressure monitor or some combination of other medical instruments to help identify symptoms and determine a diagnosis.

Prescribe medications

Once a GP has diagnosed a patient's illness, they may consider it necessary to write a prescription for the patient to undergo a course of medication. For example, a GP might diagnose a patient as having a bacterial infection and prescribe them a single course of antibiotics. A GP may have seen another patient for multiple visits regarding cholesterol issues they're experiencing and determined after conducting appropriate tests that they require cholesterol-lowering medications. For patients who require specific medication on a regular basis, such as individuals with a thyroid disorder, GPs may also write them a repeat prescription.

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Provide referrals

While GPs have knowledge in most areas of human anatomy and medicine, sometimes a patient's condition may require more advanced treatment that's outside a GP's expertise. In these situations, a GP might write a referral so the patient can visit a specialist and gain an accurate diagnosis and receive any advanced treatments, operations or management advice they require for their condition. This often involves first identifying which type of specialist is most appropriate for the patient's illness and then writing a referral for the patient to contact and arrange an appointment.

A GP may also write a referral for a patient to undertake blood work to help them gain a clearer idea of what medication or treatment plan the patient requires. For example, a patient may describe experiencing symptoms that suggest they have a thyroid disorder. They may also tell a GP that thyroid disorders are common in their family's history. A GP might refer them to have blood work done to test their hormone levels and assess whether their thyroid is functioning abnormally. This type of referral can help a GP diagnose their patient's illness and monitor their condition.

Perform minor surgeries

Many GPs can perform minor surgeries for their patients, such as inserting and removing contraceptive implants and removing skin lesions and cysts. A GP may perform this responsibility by first having a consultation with the patient to discuss the surgery and ensure they're comfortable with the procedure before proceeding. Before the patient arrives for their surgery, a GP typically arranges any required equipment and makes sure the nursing staff has properly sterilised the surgical environment. From here, a GP performs the surgery and then discusses relevant post-operation details with the patient.

Beneficial skills

Here are some skills that can benefit you as a GP:

Verbal communication

GPs typically spend most of their working hours talking with patients and discussing their medical needs, so having strong verbal communication skills can be essential. For example, many patients may not be familiar with medical jargon or the function of major body systems like the digestive, repository and cardiovascular systems. With proficient verbal communication skills, a GP can explain the causes of illnesses and required treatment plans in simplified ways that are clear and intelligible to their patients.

Related: Types of Verbal Communication (With Importance and Tips)

Empathy

Empathy refers to your ability to understand what another person is experiencing and offer them the appropriate sensitivity. This can be a highly valuable skill for GPs because they regularly care for patients who are undergoing unfortunate illnesses. For example, with well-placed empathy, a GP can make their patient feel more comfortable and calm and it can help to build a doctor-patient relationship built on trust and compassion. GPs may show their empathy in various ways, such as by making eye contact, listening carefully to the patient and offering them words of encouragement.

Related: What Are Empathic Skills? (With Benefits and Steps)

Organisation

Having organisational skills as a GP can enable you to perform your daily duties more efficiently. For example, depending on the practice or clinic where they work, GPs usually have busy schedules each day that typically involve seeing numerous patients for consultations, attending professional meetings and completing various paperwork duties. With excellent organisational abilities, you can manage your schedule effectively to ensure you have enough time to attend to patients' needs and complete additional tasks within expected deadlines.

Related: What Is a Time Management Plan? (And How to Create One)

Stamina

GPs often work long hours. Depending on their working environment, some may even work as many as 11 hours per day while also being on call for short-notice emergency situations. Although it's not a requirement, having excellent stamina can help you handle the mental and physical fatigue you may occasionally experience as a GP.

Ambition

Being ambitious can be highly beneficial to you as a GP and to your patients. For example, with ambition, you may have a desire for continuous learning and improvement to become a more successful and sought-after practitioner. This might involve extending your GP training into specialised areas of interest. By seeking continual development, you can attain more knowledge and skills to help you diagnose patients with greater reliability and ensure they receive exceptional care and professionalism.

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