Breaking down the walls – selling rural GP

020115_0302 copyIt was a Saturday afternoon in February and I was up to my knees in Derwent Water setting up a computer on an office desk. Half an hour earlier I’d been conducting a consultation on the jetty and in the morning I was taking a blood pressure in the snow on the fells near Caldbeck. Later in the day, as the winter sun was going down, I was consulting again, this time from the dramatic amphitheatre of Castlerigg stone circle in Keswick.

It wasn’t an entirely typical day’s surgery in Cumbria, but the backdrops were all within the catchment of some of our training practices, and many of these views are enjoyed every day by GPs and trainees who live and work in our area.

We’d taken our consultations outside to make a point, to shout from the tops: we are here, we love it, we want others to join us…

The journey began in December 2014 when our GP training programme joined Twitter. As a trainee I was entrusted to run the site in partnership with one of our training programme directors, Natalie Hawkrigg. We were determined to stand out in the crowded world of social media and it wasn’t long before Natalie (who Honey and Mumford would describe as an activist) had an idea. We were going to conduct GP consultations in unlikely places, take photos and broadcast them on our Twitter site. Through our pictures we would communicate to the social media world the beauty of our local area and the enthusiasm and innovation of our trainees and trainers.

Our GP training programme in Cumbria is small, friendly and flexible. The training practices are spread over a wide area stretching across North Cumbria to Northumberland and even over the border in Scotland.

As a trainee in a rural practice I have found myself dealing with a STEMI in surgery, conducting home visits at a Buddhist monastery and crisscrossing the countryside searching for isolated farms. I love every aspect of it and couldn’t imagine training anywhere else.

In the past the programme has been oversubscribed but in recent years trainee numbers have gone down as GP vacancies have gone up. The secret of our fabulous little training programme was just too closely guarded. The beauty of using social media was that we – the GP trainees and educators – had the freedom to take matters into own hands.

We called the campaign #GreatBritishConsultations and published the pictures on Twitter over a number of weeks. We had a gradual build up of interest and it was eventually picked up by the media and the story was featured in Pulse magazine, our local Cumberland News, the MDU magazine and as picture of the week in the BMJ. Natalie was even interviewed for Radio 4 from her practice in Caldbeck. Many of the photos were framed and put on the walls of the education centre at the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle.

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I hope that running the campaign has raised the profile of our area but it is too early to tell whether it will be enough to increase the number of trainees. It certainly boosted our followers on Twitter and gave us the confidence to continue our experiment in social media, and to think up new ideas to keep ourselves noticeable. Having some responsibility for our training programme’s public profile remains daunting but it also fuels the desire to continue our improvement and innovation. This is the sort of thing that can only come from grassroots, trainee-centred initiatives. I applaud our programme for being open-minded, adventurous and for trusting in their trainees who are, after all, the very heart of its existence.

Rose Singleton

GPST3 East Cumbria GP Training Programme

Photographs courtesy and copyright of Steve Razzetti – 

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