Essential workers? An institutional ethnographic lens on pandemic GP placements

Grainne P. Kearney*, Helen Reid, Nigel D. Hart

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
53 Downloads (Pure)


Clinical placements for medical students in the United Kingdom (UK) came to an abrupt halt in March 2020. The rapidly evolving Covid19 pandemic created specific challenges for educators, balancing safety concerns for patients, students and healthcare staff alongside the imperative to continue to train future clinicians. Organisations such as the Medical Schools Council (MSC) published guidance to help plan return of students to clinical placements. This study aimed to examine how GP education leads made decisions around students returning to clinical placements for the 20/21 academic year.

Data collection and analysis was informed by an Institutional Ethnographic approach. Five GP education leads from medical schools throughout the UK were interviewed (over MS TEAMS™). Interviews focused on the work the participants did to plan students’ return to clinical placements and how they used texts to inform this work. Analysis focused on the interplay between the interview and textual data.

Results and Discussion
GP education leads actively used MSC guidance which confirmed students to be ‘essential workers’, an unquestioned and unquestionable phrase at the time. This permitted students to return to clinical placements by affording the GP education leads authority to ask or persuade GP tutors to accept them. Furthermore, by describing teaching as ‘essential work’ in its own right in the guidance, this extended what the GP tutors came to expect to do as ‘essential workers’ themselves.

GP education leads activated authoritarian phrases such as ‘essential workers’ and ‘essential work’ contained within MSC guidance to direct students’ return to clinical placements in GP settings.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages7
JournalEducation for Primary Care
Early online date08 Mar 2023
Publication statusEarly online date - 08 Mar 2023


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