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Philosophical thinking to help GPs improve their professional practice

The way ahead for GP training is to bring philosophical theory into general practice

Professor Quassim Cassam, Department of Philosophy, Warwick

My research on intellectual virtues and vices led me to think about their significance in professional contexts.

I've always been interested in medicine, and this led me to think about the virtues or excellences of a good GP.

If we can identify what these virtues are, then GP training should try to cultivate them. 

I had two aims: to identify the key virtues of excellent general practice and help GPs to cultivate these virtues. I designed a website on professional virtues in modern medicine (Professional Virtues in Modern Medicine) which has been adopted as a training module by the Royal College of General Practitioners. I also do an annual training day for trainee GPs in Manchester and have organized several conferences and workshops for groups of up to 40 GPs.

I approached the work with humility – I hope! I'm always hugely impressed by trainee GPs and would be delighted to have contributed to their thinking about what it is to be a good GP. There are many difficult questions about the nature of general practice and thinking about generalist virtues helps to clarify the idea of general practice. 

I had a lot to learn about how general practice works and I am still learning. Most GPs have little or no philosophical training, and it is a major challenge to convince them that philosophy has anything to contribute to their professional toolkit.  GPs face enormous challenges, and anything that helps them to improve is worth doing. Most GPs who have attended the training days and workshops I have organized have given positive feedback. For many, it is important to have time set aside for reflection on their professional practice.

The way ahead is to keep engaging with general practitioners and to keep learning from them in developing my ideas about excellence in general practice. The beauty of this work is that GPs and philosophers have so much to learn from each other.

I couldn't imagine a better environment in which to continue develop such a project, with its direct philosophical impact, than here at Warwick.


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