A recent survey found that the top career choices for five-to-11 year olds in the UK are sports star, pop star and actor. Around 25 years ago, the aspirations were teacher, banker and doctor.
How did our profession become so unpopular? Admittedly the public relations programme of the medical profession has not had a great run of late. Now the key messages that junior doctors are over-worked and under-paid have even filtered down to primary school kids.
In the same survey, one in five children said they ‘just wanted to be rich’ when they grow up. I can certainly think of easier ways to make money than the medical profession.
If your primary goal was to get rich quick you might not relish the mountain of debt accrued at college, the decade of training to reach consultancy, the loss of a social life for most of your 20s and the very long and emotional days which turn into weeks. Many would argue that choosing law or investment banking would be the smarter choice.
Luckily, I don’t think I’ve ever met a medical colleague who was in it for the money – despite the media campaign which would suggest junior doctors are only striking over pay. Whatever the outcome of the current negotiations, the very real problem we have is recruiting staff to deal with the increasing demand for health care. Who will want to enter our profession in the face of such negativity?
A King’s Fund report states that the potential shortages in the workforce faced by the health and social care system are ‘breath-taking’. In fact, only half of all junior doctors (52 per cent) who complete their foundation programme choose to continue their training in the NHS – the lowest level in the health service’s history. The figure was 71.3 per cent in only 2011. Many will see this dramatic drop as an own goal for the government – that training would have cost around £250,000 for each doctor.
Health Education England (HEE), the employment and training arm of the NHS, has been tasked with increasing GP numbers by 5,000 by 2020 but has already missed targets. Across the board, there has been a 60 per cent increase in doctor vacancies between 2013 and 2015 according to the Office for National Statistics.
Any recruitment campaign will have to work very hard to turn around these statistics. A good place to start would be to encourage our very young future doctors that medicine really is as rewarding as I know it can be.
This job might be harder than we think – news that the humble stethoscope, the key component of any child’s medical role play, is to be phased out in the wake up of handheld ultrasound devices will not help our cause. First we lose our trusted white coats in a bid to boost hygiene, now we say goodbye to the faithful 200-year-old symbol of modern medicine. As one distressed colleague wrote, “my stethoscope is like Harry Potter’s wand – both can produce magic!”