Completed questionnaires were returned by 50 graduates (response rate 76%).
Characteristics of the graduates
The mean age of the GPs at entry was 40.1 (± 6.6, range: 29–54) years. They had 11 (± 6.9, range: 1–25) years of experience in general practice, starting from the beginning of their vocational training. Thirty-one were male, and 41 had graduated from a UK medical school.
Forty of the GPs had received some kind of financial support for programme fees, and 30 for the locum costs. Details are presented in . The ‘salaried practitioner scheme’ was funded by three London primary care trusts (PCTs) to enhance recruitment and retention of GPs. Prolonged study-leave funding still exists but its availability is dependent on the individual PCT.
Sources of GPs' funding of MSc programme fees and locum costs.
Research and teaching commitments
At the time of the survey, 22 of the responders were not working in the same practice as when they started the MSc, and eight of them considered that this could be related to the MSc. Although the questionnaire did not include a specific question on the reduction of clinical commitments, four GPs referred to its influence in reducing these commitments to pursue academic interests or to achieve a better balance between work and leisure. After completion of the MSc, 22 graduates had registered for another degree or diploma: three for a PhD, two for an MD, two for another MSc, two for an MA, eight for diplomas, and eight for certificates; two became members of the Royal College of General Practitioners (MRCGP), and one was awarded the College's fellowship.
Eleven of the GPs are currently engaged in research projects; a further six have been named on research grants, and 21 have published their work after completing the MSc. Twenty-one have published journal articles (74 papers in total). Seven have contributed to books or book chapters (13 in total), nine have presented papers at conferences (57 in total), and six have presented conference posters (29 in total).
Teaching or academic posts held by the graduates currently or after the completion of the MSc include: nine at lecturer/senior lecturer level, 21 undergraduate teachers, 21 GP trainers, 13 course organisers or trainers, 6 MRCGP examiners, 4 GP tutors, 2 honorary research fellows, and 17 other teaching posts. Twenty-five held more than one of the above posts.
Twenty-eight graduates recognised the MSc as the key factor in attaining their current teaching or research roles. Among the GPs holding academic posts, all recognised the MSc as a key factor in climbing the academic ladder.
Achievement of goals and educational outcomes
The majority of the 18 items of the MSc's intended outcomes were rated as having been achieved (). A more critical outlook on practice, and awareness of ethical issues were highly ranked. The use of evidence in clinical practice and understanding patients' behaviours and beliefs also scored highly, affirming the programme's objectives to develop both academic excellence and high-quality patient care.
Graduates' views on intended outcomes.
The majority of the graduates (n = 40) stated that they had achieved their own initial goals, with career development being the most frequently cited aim. Improvement in clinical practice, increased job satisfaction, and a better understanding of the changing nature of general practice were also cited as important goals ().
Achievement of initial individual goals.
Forty-seven graduates thought the group experience had been a significant aspect of the MSc. The free-text answers provided a better insight about the ways the MSc influenced their development. A selection of quotes that are illustrative of these themes are presented in Box 1
, and suggest that development was wide ranging, embracing both academic and clinical practice, and personal and professional dimensions. The student group itself provided an ongoing source of support.
Box 1 Quotes that are illustrative of the themes identified relating to the way the MSc has influenced GPs' development
Benefits to individual GP
- Career development:
‘Realised I loved sharing knowledge and this led me t• teaching.’ (GP54)
‘The MSc stimulated an interest in research, and I had always been interested.’ (GP69)
- Personal development:
‘Investment in oneself brings unexpected rewards.’ (GP62)
‘Made me understand what sort of person I am, my strengths, weaknesses, areas for development. Gave me confidence.’ (GP52)
‘The MSc gave an opportunity to take “time out” from everyday practice and reflect (take stock/analyse what we do — how and why. It has made me more reflective (analytic/critical … I also continue to learn as an adult …’ (GP46)
- Understanding the context of general practice:
‘More awareness of external pressures on healthcare systems, allowing understanding of why we are being subjected to unreasonable changes, and to cope with it better without agreeing or colluding.’ (GP64)
- Increased job satisfaction:
‘I was overstretched and in danger of burnout clinically and I was becoming impatient with patients. It enabled me to step back and become more reflective and regain pleasure in my work (by doing less in the practice and varying my work to include more social development). A really good experience. I continue to practice. More happily and patiently.’ (GP50)
Benefits to patients
- Improving clinical practice:
‘More evidence based but a wider appreciation of the individual patient too.’ (GP45)
‘I am better able to evaluate evidence, especially treatments and probably prescribe even less since the MSc.’ (GP67)
‘Gave me a more critical approach to daily practice, with better understanding of conflicting evidence. The MSc influenced my approach to problem solving and uncertainty.’ (GP58)
Benefits to practice
- Benefits for the practice
‘Our practice has become a hot bed for teaching and education. We are looking to rebuild and have a “training suite”.’ (GP54)
‘Becoming a training practice has improved standards.’ (GP22)