Royal Navy GPs train at sea

Royal Navy GPs can now undertake some of their practical training aboard the nation’s two new aircraft carriers.

Surgeon Lieutenant Commander Ruth Guest became the first doctor to train as a GP registrar – normally carried out in NHS surgeries – aboard HMS Prince of Wales for a trial period, paving the way for others to follow suit.

A large part of GP training is apprenticeship-style, on-the-job, starting in a hospital, followed by 18 to 20 months working as a GP registrar.

Many trainees complete this at NHS GP surgeries, which means many years away from military practice and also means a newly-qualified Navy GP faces a steep learning curve when they return to the Service, facing military medicine issues – especially when deployed, when they may be working independently and running a sickbay of their own.

To help them – and to help the NHS at a time when it is stretched and has, at times, struggled to find suitable placements for RN GP registrars, the 65,000-tonne carrier and its medical department received accreditation.

Prince of Wales’ team underwent a thorough inspection, demonstrating a supportive learning environment, a varied patient population of 700 or more men and women, team working and efficient day to day operations to gain this civilian accreditation… which also applies to her sister ship Queen Elizabeth, so both carriers can prepare RN doctors for GP duties.

For Surg Lt Cdr Guest, the practical experience aboard the carrier shows considerable forward-thinking by the Navy. “Why should training be limited to the four walls of an NHS GP practice in the UK when we could train our GPs in the role we need them for?” she said.

That forward-thinking was borne out by her time aboard Prince of Wales.

Surgeon Lieutenant Commander Ruth Guest

“It has been 6 years since I last served at sea and this has been a fantastic opportunity to get ‘back into uniform’ and re-establish my role as a doctor in the RN,” she added.

“The ship’s company were incredibly welcoming and helped me relocate myself when I looked lost – which was often! It has given a great insight into life on an aircraft carrier and I would love to come back in my future career.”

And while coughs, cuts and sprains are all part of GP duties in your local surgery, or in a sickbay, the exercises aboard the carrier and ‘casualty simulation’, using props and make-up for added realism, make for bespoke a training experience.

“I really enjoyed being part of a medical team, bouncing ideas around and gaining knowledge from different members with vast amounts of experience in their field was invaluable,” Surg Lt Cdr Guest added.

“Attending departmental meetings helped familiarise me with where medical sat in the bigger picture of the ship – and beyond.”

She’s convinced there’s scope beyond GP training with this initiative. “Medics, nurses, dentists – we could all benefit from front-line educational experiences, and as the carriers embark aircraft there is even more scope to gain experience in the field of aviation medicine.”