Training and working as a GP in Wales is second-to-none
Dr Tom Windsor-Lewis from NHS Wales tells GP Jobs about his ‘no brainer’ career move from England to North Wales
Dr Tom Windsor-Lewis: "A career in Wales gives you the chance to work at the cutting edge of medicine in a variety of environments."
Please tell us about NHS Wales
As a doctor in Wales, you’ll get the chance to continue the traditions of the NHS in the country of its birth and influence future models of care. NHS Wales is home to six university health boards and a teaching health board, each contributing to a well-earned reputation for international-standard research. This means when you bring your career to Wales, you’ll be able to fall back on a superb range of resources. You’ll also have access to Government and decision-makers.
What types of roles are on offer at NHS Wales?
A career in Wales gives you the chance to work at the cutting edge of medicine in a variety of environments. From creating artificial limbs with 3D printing to working as a rural GP; taking part in pioneering university research to joining a mountain medicine team. There’s plenty to get excited about whatever your preferred direction.
Why did you decide to relocate to Wales to train as a GP?
A move to rural North Wales to train as a GP was a no brainer for me. I wanted a location that was both medically challenging and rewarding, yet also offered a strong sense of community and amazing landscape. Training, working and living in Snowdonia National Park ticks all of those boxes.
My family was another big reason for the move. My little boy now gets to grow up in a safe environment, with the countryside at his feet and some great schooling on offer locally. For my wife and I, we have been able to integrate into a very caring and vibrant community.
What is involved in the typical day of a trainee GP?
No day is ever quite the same. As a full-time GP trainee a typical week is made up of 10 sessions (five mornings and five afternoons). Seven sessions will be clinical (for example, morning or afternoon surgeries) of which one or two may be an on call depending on the surgery you are at and the stage of training. Three sessions are dedicated to your training needs of which one is a self directed study session. This allows you the time and space needed to attend clinics, take on projects or just get to grips with your portfolio. Obviously there are letters and results that drip in during the week but this does not need to be overwhelming and is often timetabled into trainees’ days if they want this. The structure of the day is largely up to the trainee.
During surgeries there is always someone on hand if you need some support and although I spend much of the day working on my own, I am yet to feel isolated and unsupported when I’ve needed a helping hand.
What is the best bit about your day?
Probably the diversity and variation, which was part of the reason I changed from acute medical training to GP training. Many junior doctors will appreciate that I don’t need to fight for a computer or a desk anymore – I have my own room and am able to plan my day (within reason) in order to suit me.
You have to be on your toes as you never quite know what is going to come through the door. Given the rurality of some practices, I’ve learnt that your patients trust you and believe in you – this is why GPs are still the first port of call for many patients regardless of how sick they truly are and this is especially true in rural Wales.
And what is the biggest challenge?
In some of the training practices the nearest hospital is over an hour away. Rural GPs have a much greater role to play in dealing with difficult and emergency cases and need to be up to date if they are to be effective – this is not somewhere to come and sit on the back burner!
Protecting your time is a crucial part of preventing burn out, but I have to say that the majority of patients tend to avoid mentioning problems when I am out of the surgery and are very considerate. I still feel I can let my hair down a bit without this negatively impacting on my professionalism at work!
Although it can sometimes be a challenge, one of the greatest aspects is that you are treated as an adult and as a professional. Like all trainees we have portfolio and CPD requirements and programme directors often give you plenty of space to address your training needs as an adult learner.
What makes it a great place to work?
Do you know, that’s a really difficult question to answer specifically. There is so much to like about training in Wales from the opportunities available in both a work and social context, to the ability to be able to go into work feeling optimistic and excited knowing you are part of a community and providing a much needed service. All I can say is that I know it’s the happiest I have ever been and it’s because I’m living and working in Wales – but don’t tell everyone or they might all want to come here!
What has the training you’ve received in Wales been like?
If you are proactive (which most junior doctors are) the training in Wales is second to none. It’s enabled me to get exposure to broad and challenging situations, where I’ve had to think on my feet and been able to take on greater responsibility more quickly – it’s been great for my confidence and reflects well on my CPD portfolio. It’s a real hands-on experience and alongside a highly tailored training programme, it’s been very empowering. Training in Wales has lived up to my every expectation and more!
How do you manage your work-life balance?
It’s not always easy with a young family and a demanding job, however Wales offers a range of flexible training packages that makes things easier. I currently work 80% (less than full time training) which has helped me spend more time with my family and be able to create an even better work-life balance – I also don’t feel I have missed out on any training and you might as well enjoy the journey, right?! The cost of living is much less than where I have previously lived in England and I’m not finding that I’m having to work all the hours in the week in order to afford the mortgage. Especially with some of the offers now available for new trainees via the Wales deanery, it’s a pretty strong financial option given the looming issues in England at the moment (should I not have mentioned that – oops!).
What exciting projects or initiatives are you working on?
Alongside my GP training, I’ve been lucky enough to get a role as team doctor in the local mountain rescue team. This allows me to combine work and leisure all into one – it’s also very exhilarating as we work and train directly with helicopters from the RAF and Coastguard. I love wilderness medicine and from my point of view, there is no better place to practice than in Wales, as part of a voluntary search & rescue service. I also get to run training and education sessions for the North Wales Mountain Rescue Association – I’ve seen a lot of the beautiful Welsh landscape from both the mountains and from the air.
What advice would you offer applicants?
To grab the opportunity with both hands and jump in. Wales is a fantastic country and I would strongly recommend any applicants put it top of their list to train, work and live. It’s definitely worth spending a bit of time researching what’s on offer at the moment.
Sum up what it’s like to work for NHS Wales
We’ve not seen the waves of strike action and rapidly declining morale as has taken place in England. There is something about the Welsh...they are optimistic and determined. These are qualities that rub off on you and I can’t see this spirit & camaraderie doing anything other than getting stronger and being even more resilient going forward.