Will Owen (GP trainee and Next Gen GP leader) reflects on developing a ‘portfolio career’ as a trainee.

I recently had the slightly surreal pleasure of being asked to share a few thoughts on setting up a ‘portfolio career’ for a short article in the BMJ. To be honest I’d never really made time to think about it before but it was a useful exercise! Here are a few things I’ve learnt so far….

For the last 2 years I’ve split my week between GP training, work as a paediatric specialty doctor, helping lead Next Gen GP, and spending a day each week with my 2 year-old daughter. Creating a varied ‘portfolio career’ was one of the reasons general practice appealed to me so much, and I’ve not been disappointed… I’ve unexpectedly found that I have more energy through my working week and a greater appreciation for my clinical time with colleagues and patients. It also, inevitably, comes with added complexity; at times developing a portfolio career has felt like spinning lots of plates – and I’ve certainly dropped a few.

  • Consider what different roles or opportunities will give you – not necessarily in terms of career progression but in what they add to your life, wellbeing or energy levels.
  • Be clear on the challenges – aside from the added complexity of ‘life admin’ (keeping track of finances, annual and study leave etc) I’ve also experienced more self-doubt as ‘a jack of all trades, master of none’. This is compounded the longer-time taken to gain clinical competencies and the difficulty some others have in understanding non-linear training paths. If developing a particular clinical interest then relevant qualifications or accreditation may help in benchmarking your experience.
  • Find allies – when you have several different roles then issues in one can impact the time and energy that you have for the others. Try to find supportive seniors, colleagues or friends who know a bit about your work blend, listening and helping when things feel difficult.
  • Build up a portfolio gradually and try to be flexible – sometimes things all fall into place at once but try to be realistic and not over-promise how much time and energy you can give each part of your week. Keep this under review and if you find the balance isn’t working for you then discuss it and change it.
  • Protect time for yourself and your personal relationships – this is usually the first thing to go when we get busy, and I’ve found that every role occasionally demands more time & energy than I’ve allocated for it! Having multiple roles comes with increasing reasons to sacrifice the time for ourselves or our relationships so it’s even more important to be aware of this.
  • Don’t be afraid to break mould – training programmes can feel very rigid but flexibility is almost always possible and can bring so many benefits, sometimes you just need to find the right person to ask.

In my experience however hard I try to manage my diary the lines between roles will blur and priorities will change week by week. I’ve had to call parents of paediatric clinic patients in the coffee break of my GP clinic, responded to urgent Next Gen emails between in between paediatric clinic patients, and been late joining conference calls booked over my lunch break because an urgent home visit cropped up. Initially I felt guilty that my attention was often split but I’ve realised that it really does all even out over time, and provided my attention is undivided when I have a patient in front of me the flexibility can be really satisfying when you get to the end of a busy day having met several very different goals.

It has been a real (ongoing) learning experience to develop a blended ‘portfolio career’ in training, and there have been several difficult periods along the way, but I still feel that the variety I have in my work has taught me skills I wouldn’t otherwise have learnt and helps keep me fresh and enthusiastic.