A happy, fulfilled doctor is a good doctor and in GP land, the personal and professional rewards are high.
Q: Did you always know you wanted to be a GP?
A: Whilst general practice was always on my shortlist, it was never really a given. General medicine, emergency and obstetrics and gynaecology also featured heavily, but were somewhat driven by my love of working in the hospital system. I enjoyed all aspects of medicine – children, adults, the elderly sparked interest in me. Each new medical school speciality rotation had me thinking “yeah, I like this, I could do this”. As I progressed through the hospital system as a doctor-in-training, I discovered a passion for health education and health promotion, (that likely grew out of my frustration at seeing so much preventable disease) and became keen for something that would offer more continuity of care. The unexpected news of a fifth baby on its way forced me to reassess how I saw my future in medicine and how I could balance my family’s needs. GP appeared to be the answer – broad scope of practice, cradle to grave care, opportunity to act as a health advocate and greater likelihood of achieving work-life balance. Luckily, it seems to have been the right answer!
Q: What are the most rewarding aspects of being a GP?
A: Intellectually, GP keeps me on my toes. Yes, we do have days of coughs and colds, tears and smears, but every speciality has its bread and butter stuff and GP is no different. There is not a day that goes by though that I don’t learn something new or have to read around something that has come through my door and I really enjoy that aspect – there are no truer words than “the good GP never stops learning”. Most of all, I love the ongoing relationships with my patients – I know their stories, their fears, their successes. Together we celebrate their gains and grieve when they have a loss. I get such a buzz when we work together to achieve change and I can see that a patient is empowered to make better health and lifestyle choices and I know that this has a positive flow-on effect to their family members. It is also such an honor and privilege when a patient asks you to take on their child or elderly parent – to be entrusted like this is a pretty special thing and is a huge vote of confidence.
Q: What sets apart the GP specialty from other medical specialty?
A: Continuity of care is central to good general practice, with a significant focus on a holistic approach – patients are not just a disease process to be seen for the short duration of their presenting illness. They are a work in progress and our role is to optimise their quality of life, whether by managing their chronic disease, improving their overall health, assisting with end of life care or helping them navigate stressful life events. There aren’t too many other specialities that the same can be said for. Additionally, the ability to work virtually anywhere and to construct your working life according to your interests is pretty cool. You can narrow your focus and subspecialise in skin, or mix it up and work a few GP lists, a couple of ED shifts, perform some surgical assisting and work a few university medical education sessions! If you can imagine it, it is pretty much possible in GP land, plus the work life balance is hard to beat – work as little or as much as you like!
Q: What advice would you give to medical students and junior doctors considering a medical specialty?
A: Don’t let the “just a GP” stigma taint your perception – good GPs have incredibly broad knowledge bases, are continually learning and are such important patient advocates (and we need more of them)! Don’t underestimate the training program – GP is not the speciality for you if you’re looking for the “easy option”. There is a lot to cover in the curriculum and it is a steep learning curve in regards to the business side of private practice, billings, etc. Plus, learning to be comfortable with a “watch and wait” approach can initially be challenging! Finally, please do seriously consider general practice training. It really is a speciality that allows you to tailor your practice not only towards your areas of interest, but also your lifestyle, and this cannot be underestimated. A happy, fulfilled doctor is a good doctor and in GP land, the personal and professional rewards are high.