Is it true that joining a GP partnership is like a marriage?

An article published in The Guardian way back in 2013 stated that joining a GP partnership is like marriage, ‘easy to enter but hard to maintain’. This was a negative spin on what is an interesting comparison; to what extent is being a GP partner like marriage?

You are legally bound to the other partners in your practice, but does a GP partnership come complete with spouse-like support? Here’s what the Myth-busting Questions on Partnerships for GP Trainees handbook had to say.

‘Your practice can be like a second family – it is a big commitment – but you also get out of it what you are prepared to put in. All practices have ups and downs, and relationships require time and investment. It can be very rewarding as everyone is committed to the team – but you have to work through those highs and lows together like any family!

If you are seriously considering joining a practice as a partner, you should expect to be able to see their partnership accounts for the previous two years; this gives you the option of getting an expert view on the financial state of the practice. Ask how soon you would be expected to build up your working capital. You should also ask to see their current partnership agreement.’

So, the handbook would say, yes, GP partnerships are, indeed, quite like marriages.

It also lists the positive job attributes of becoming a GP partner.; howdo these align with the elements of marriage? 

  • ‘Autonomy – and self-determination. This includes the autonomy to set your working day/week, in conjunction with agreement from your partners.’ In a healthy marriage, both partners should remain ‘whole’, with each partner supporting and encouraging the other to be the best version of themselves. But the final clause is key here and, inevitably, you must make decisions based on the wellbeing and wishes of your spouse. 
  • ‘Portfolio career – as a partner you automatically have a portfolio career with clinical, financial, management and employer responsibilities, but the opportunities to develop are endless.’ So, much like being in a functional marriage, then, as you tackle all of life’s financial, legal and management related elements together.
  • ‘Income – usually beneficial, although it is a business, and so profits can vary from practice-to-practice/year-to-year. As a partner you have the opportunity to make decisions about how to run your practice, and can directly see how these changes impact on income.’ Many marriages fall apart because of differences over money. In a successful marriage – and practice – both parties share the same views on finance, and are honest and open about it with each other.
  • ‘Whilst general practice has continued to evolve, it remains the primary building block that serves the local population, and will continue to do so for years ahead.’ Directly translatable to marriage. A healthy marriage provides a pillar of support to navigate all that life decides to throw at you; the ups and downs, scares and cures – in sickness and in health.
  • ‘Freedom to innovate – practices are agile and responsive organisations with streamlined decision-making processes. This means they can develop services and implement changes quickly and effectively.’ The freedom to innovate is, perhaps, the elixir of a successful marriage. Humans, like practices, are both agile and responsive, if not always blessed with streamlined decision-making processes. For a marriage to thrive, the ability to adapt as your relationship shifts is vital.
  • ‘Property owning opportunity – for some this is seen as a risk but, in the past, it has provided an opportunity and, as a partner, you may have the option to become a part-owner of your surgery.’ Much like investing in GP premises as a partner, invest in property with your spouse at your own (financial, emotional) risk.
  • ‘Flat hierarchy – all partners should have an equal say in their partnership. It is also important that all staff are valued’. A flat hierarchy is paramount to a successful marriage. Each partner should be equal in the eyes of the other – regardless of earnings, social standing, class, race, background etc. Without this, both romantic and general practice partnerships are doomed.

All-in-all, GP partnerships share quite a lot in common with marriage, especially for those working out of a local surgery with a domestic, family feel.

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