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Logo of brjgenpracRCGP homepageJ R Coll Gen Pract at PubMed CentralBJGP at RCGPBJGP at RCGP
Br J Gen Pract. 2009 May 1; 59(562): 373–374.
PMCID: PMC2673165

How much should a GP read?

Luis Ayerbe, GP
Thorpe Bay Surgery, 99 Tyrone Road, Essex SS1 3HD. E-mail: moc.liamtoh@ebreyasiul

We GPs have to keep learning all our lives to have our knowledge updated. Reading is not the only way to learn and yet we must keep some time every week for it. Seeing three patients generates two clinical questions, which solution would improve our practice. Furthermore, disease management changes very quickly and we wouldn't follow this evolution without reading.

There is also an ethical need to learn: we have to give patients the best possible care and we have to seek the highest level of professional development for ourselves.1 Doctors who don't continue to learn become dissatisfied and burn out.

Daily work together with our own team helps us identify our learning needs. A person's ability to assess his or her own performance is limited. Lifelong learning means finding the right balance between confidence and doubt. It is easiest to find this balance if you work with people who support questioning behaviour.2 The process of learning involves critical analysis, curiosity, logic, reasoning, and the appreciation of human-spirit achievements. These elements give medical reading an incredible humanistic value.

A high proportion of the problems we see in our surgeries are related to just a few common conditions, such as diabetes and asthma. Once a year we should read updated guidelines of these conditions. The rest of patients present with varied cases approachable by ‘problem based learning.’ Consultants help with some patients' clinical management. However, we still have to know what happens to these patients, so we have to read about their conditions. Topics beyond the traditional medical subjects, like managerial or social skills, deserve some reading as well. We can identify learning points from each day's surgery.

The ideal reading is on an issue strongly linked to professional practice that comes from an accessible source with valid information; for example, updated and evidence-based drug reference books, textbooks, reviews, and clinical questions.3 Good management of the internet is fundamental to localise and access these sources.

We are not pure intellectuals, but busy doctors, with other personal commitments. Therefore, we could aim for a realistic but effective 2 hours a week of quiet and uninterrupted reading. This suggestion, which we raise for discussion, comes from our own experience, medical education readings, and conversations with colleagues.

Our reading obviously takes an effort, interest, and love perhaps? Definitely:

‘Where there is love for mankind there is the love for the art of healing’. (Hypocrates)


1. Álvarez S, Martínez C, Latorre C, et al. Multiple clinical scenarios (MUESCLI sessions): a step on problem solved learning for primary health care teams. Medifam. 2002;12(6):41–55.
2. Teunissen PW, Dornan T. Lifelong learning at work. BMJ. 2008;336(7645):667–669. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
3. Smith R. What clinical information do doctors need? BMJ. 1996;313(7064):1062–1068. [PMC free article] [PubMed]

Articles from The British Journal of General Practice are provided here courtesy of Royal College of General Practitioners