It’s about time for a new brand of practice managers

Is content specifically for practice managers getting side-lined by clinical chaos? It seems there is much written about the future of general practice, and the role of GPs, nurses and other clinicians, but ‘practice manager’ remains a nebulous and forgettable profession. It’s time this changes.

This is an edited version of an article written by practice manager Sarah Longland and first published by GPview

The role of the practice manager (PM) has changed beyond all recognition in many practices over the last three years and I doubt that it will exist in its current form in the next three-to-five years, which is a good thing. Talk to any PM and they’ll tell you that the problem is that no two PM roles are the same. There is no standard job description, or a set of core competencies, in sight! It’s the one job in the practice that lots of people think they can do better, but very few step forward and rise to the challenge. It is also the role that tackles everything that no one else has managed to sort out yet.

As general practice moves forward, just as GPs are likely to be working differently, PMs will have to radically change their approach to the role, and how they do it, in order to remain current and vital in their practices.

New models of practice and management

General practice at scale will give rise to professionals who can take an active role at the top table in shaping the organisations they manage. These will be true leaders, innovators and agents for change. They will support decision-making that is right for the organisation and put aside their own needs to make things happen. The managers needed for the future of general practice will be collaborative across health systems, not just general practice. The generalist manager is probably a thing of the past.

Organisations in these new models will need specialists with expertise in many aspects of the business, including finance and HR, as a minimum. These individuals will need to be driven, determined and passionate about what they do, with energy and enthusiasm in abundance. The new managers will strive for a culture of continuous improvement in their organisations, leaving no process unturned in the search for more streamlined and efficient practice. They will have to be convincing, engaging, motivating and care a great deal about those they work with. They will also strive to achieve better outcomes for patients by putting them at the heart of the strategy. They will build solid and empowered organisational structures where others can thrive.

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The future of the practice manager

In order to develop these skills, PMs will need to access high-quality professional training programmes, with an academic seal of approval, which support them to explore new skills fit for the future.

I dream of the day when you can walk onto any university campus and find a group of students who are studying to be professional general practice managers, such is my passion for our relevance.

Nipping off to a PMs Conference once a year won’t be enough. We will have to evidence sustained and continuous professional development to keep up-to-date with the pace of change. Just as clinicians have a profession, so do the types of managers that can support the future of general practice.

We will also need a national relevance. Why shouldn’t PMs be actively lobbying for change? After all, we are the ones managing the organisations that will carry out the government’s vision. I see no reason why a PM could not hold a future role on the BMA’s General Practitioners Committee, the RCGP Council or, indeed, any other national, GP-led organisation.

Is it time for a new breed of practice manager? I say yes, it is! Can time-served receptionists still become managers? Probably, but only if they possess all the skills and acumen needed to do the job. What will the job title be in the future? It doesn’t matter – call us whatever you like, judge us on what we do and the value we add.

The rewards will be high, but one thing I know for certain is that it won’t be for the faint-hearted.

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