Dr Richard Darnton, GP and newly arrived Director of Studies in General Practice at the General Practice Education Group (GPEG), describes his passion for medical education and his ambitions for GP teaching at Cambridge.
Tell us a little about your career so far?
In my teens I was on course to follow my sister to Oxford to study music or physics. However, at the 11th hour I chose Medicine after watching a fly on the wall documentary that followed a GP called Barry Brewster around the Yorkshire Dales. (Years later I actually did my GP training at Barry’s practice!). Being limited to the handful of medical schools who offered a “pre-medical year” for applicants without chemistry and biology A-levels I relinquished my Oxbridge dreams and chose Manchester.
As an undergraduate I was influenced by my peers to discount GP as a career. However, I was lucky enough to do part of my intern year in a general practice and was instantly attracted by how much I had to rely on my clinical reasoning skills compared to my hospital jobs at the time. Years later as a GP trainee, I was talent spotted teaching primary school children about healthy eating and ended up as an inner-city GP with a job (and a mentor) in undergraduate medical education. A Masters degree, an academic fellowship and a GP partnership followed, during which time I undertook research looking at the socialisation of medical students to different types of curricula.
Eventually I ended up working for Health Education England as a communication skills lead and line-managing GP training and workforce development in Bedfordshire as an Associate Dean. That job has been fascinating as it has been right at the interface of NHS management, postgraduate medical education and frontline service delivery. I learned so much about leadership, governance, building workforce capacity, national policy development and implementation, quality assurance, service transformation and organisational development as well as NHS management structures and cultures.
How did your interest in medical education start?
As a kid, pretty much all my close and extended family were teachers. So, although I broke the mould by becoming a doctor, I guess you could say education is in my blood. Coming from a non-medical family and going to a comprehensive school in a deprived part of North East England gave me a bit of an “outsider’s perspective” on medicine and a desire to help produce doctors who deliver quality medicine in a way that empowers and activates patients, irrespective of their cultural or socioeconomic status. At medical school, finding myself to be in a “guinea pig year” for a radical new curriculum also forced me to develop a keen interest in medical education!
Why did you decide to join GPEG?
I was attracted to the role by the positive organisational culture of both the department and the medical school combined with a tradition of valuing both academic rigour and high quality educational methods.
I have an enthusiasm for helping shape our future medical leaders and giving them an understanding of the scientific basis, the complexity and the value of primary care
– Dr Richard Darnton
What do you expect to prioritise in your first year with us?
Providing our medical students with high quality learning contexts in General Practice is GPEG core business. However, practices are under more pressure than ever and primary care is now being organised and delivered in new and varied ways – this all at a time when the medical school is expanding its numbers. One early priority will therefore need to be supporting and expanding our array of primary care placements and clinical teachers without compromising on educational quality.
Find out more about GPEG
Queries: Lucy Lloyd, Communications, Primary Care Unit