General practice or hospital practitioner?

August 6, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
Hospital doctor shadowing & global health experience programs.

See current opportunities

The world of medicine offers a myriad of different career choices. But whether you decide to be a doctor, a nurse, or therapist of some kind, many roles will one day require you to make a choice between whether you will spend your career in a large hospital or in a smaller general practice environment.  

Both working environments have their pros and cons, but they are very different. Choosing one in preference to the other will have a huge impact on not just your day-to-day practice of medicine, but also on the kind of relationships you build with patients and colleagues.

Your medical training will give you the chance to experience many different kinds of work environments. And choosing your gap year placement wisely will help you decide which kind of workplace is right for you. 

Here we outline some of the key factors of working in general practice and in hospitals. And like all the decisions you make about your medical career, it involves taking into consideration much more than medical science.

Life in general practice


The GP doctor is often the first medical professional a patient will approach in relation to their health, which means that a GP’s case-load is arguably the most diverse of any doctor. This means that if you choose to be a GP you will get the chance to use all your medical knowledge as you face the challenge of diagnosing the whole gamut of health issues, or delivering health screenings and check-ups. 

Monitoring a new born in obstetrics and gynaecology! The chance to use your people skills

Patience, tact, and a willingness to read between the lines of what patients are saying have always been important in GP medicine. In an era where more and more patients are seeking help with addiction, mental health issues and age-related illness,  these qualities are more important than ever, and the work of GP staff is increasingly interfacing with the sphere of social work.  If you are more attracted to the science than the people aspect of health care, you might want to consider whether this is the role for you – although many hospital roles will also require these qualities too. 

Relationship with patients

Working in general practice, you are likely to build a relationship with individual patients which span several years or decades – or perhaps even the patient’s entire life. This can be one of the most rewarding aspects of the job and is a key attraction of this kind of role for many health care professionals. 

Relationship with the community

Working in general practise also means that you will establish a relationship with the community you serve. The smaller the community you serve, the more true this is likely to be. This can be extremely rewarding, because you will be able to gain a greater understanding of patients and their needs within the context of their own day-to-day lives. GP practise staff might also find themselves invited to become involved in local health initiatives and community groups – everything from providing medical cover for the church fête to giving the local Brownies a talk on your gap year in Eastern Europe. This kind of community involvement can be immensely satisfying. But the smaller your community, the higher your profile is likely to be within the community. If you prefer your anonymity, you might prefer working in a big hospital in a big city to being a nurse in a village practice. 


For doctors in particular, a GP role can offer greater flexibility of employment, with part-time and locum roles often available, should you decide you no longer want to work full-time. It can offer a better work-life balance too. In many areas, GPs no longer provide out-of-hours cover, with this service contracted out to other providers. This means that some GPs can now avoid the unsociable hours and rotas which are part and parcel of hospital life for many medical professionals. As a practise nurse or therapist, you are likely to work regular hours which many of your hospital counterparts will not.

Good times and bad times

Even when patients are receiving hospital treatment under the supervision of a hospital consultant, they remain in close contact with their GP, so you will work closely on a long-term basis with people who are seriously ill and coping with stressful life events. But much of your case-load will involve less serious health problems and you will also work with people at some of the happiest times of their life, such as pregnancy and post-natal care. 

Be part of a small team

Even a large GP practise will be a small, close-knit team compared to a large hospital which employs thousands of people. As you progress through your training you will gain a feel for which kind of environment you prefer.  

Location location location

GP practices are required everywhere – from inner cities to rural environments. So you can choose to live and work wherever takes your fancy – and might more easily find employment if you are trying to find somewhere that you and your partner can both work. If you go into hospital medicine,   you are more likely to find yourself required to live within easy reach of a larger town or city. 

A hospital career 


If you want to be a surgeon or specialise in a particular area of medicine, for example oncology, renal or orthopaedics, you can look forward to spending your life in a hospital. If you want to make a name for yourself as an expert in your field, a hospital will give you the chance to do just that – especially if you take up every chance to become involved in, or lead, medical research studies. 


Hospitals offer chances to get involved in research on patient care and the development of new therapies and patient care. If this interests you, a university teaching hospital might be the best place for you to work after qualifying. If you are fascinated with the science of medicine, rather than the people side of things, a hospital can offer the best chance to combine practising medicine with research, rather than opting for a pure medical research job. GPs can also become involved in research too, but this tends to be to a lesser extent. 

Be part of a large team

As a hospital practitioner you are likely to be part of a larger team than most GPs, within the umbrella of a large organisation. This can offer both professional, emotional and practical support in an often stressful environment, as well as all the camaraderie which can go along with working in a big team. This also offers great opportunities for networking and expanding your professional contacts.

Lead a team

As a hospital practitioner you may, as your career progresses. become responsible for leading a team of staff, running a department or teaching and supervising trainees. Passing on your knowledge and experience can be immensely satisfying and a welcome fresh departure after several years of practice.Working with younger, newly trained doctors will also help keep your outlook fresh 

Location location location

If you want a stellar and research-focused career in a large university teaching hospital, you will probably have to live in a big urban area or its commuter belt.  But if you are a country kid at heart, don’t rule out the possibility of working in a district hospital or a job which requires close contact with cottage hospitals. Smaller hospital environments can offer the best of both worlds – the specialisms and support of a large organisation coupled with closer links to a smaller community.

Avoid business responsibilities

Hospitals are not usually short of administrators and managers – ask any budget-strapped ward sister! Hospital practitioners do not have the additional responsibilities of running a business and employing staff which GP partners have to take on, leaving you free to focus on medicine. 

Whichever medical working environment you are attracted to, it is worth making the most of your training to explore both, so as to ensure your long-term career is in an environment you enjoy. When choosing your gap year placement think carefully – do you want an experience which will help you decide between the two? Or a springboard which will get you set on the career path which you already know in your heart is right for you?