GP. The Baskin-Robbins of medicine.
It seems like a distant memory but in truth my hospital years only ended 18 months ago. What a joy it was to get the news that my days of rounding at 5am were finally at an end. Never having to write a hurried discharge summary, eyes heavy, held open by the stale, ward-dispensed granulated coffee. Not having to complete my daily gym workout by muscling 15 tome-like patient charts around a ward, the ultimate juggling act in the circus of hospital life.
Enter the world of general practice or commonly what is spoken in hushed whispers as ‘GP land’. Is it really this mythical and foreign? Perhaps those stuck in the rut of the aforementioned RMO-itis would speak of the greener pastures presented by the world of general practice. Are they all true? Well some certainly, but knowing that it is not all laughter and unicorns (despite what our college emblem would have you believe) will allow you to determine whether general practice is indeed the specialty most suited to you. General practice has its attractions, and these are varied and multiple. For me personally, I have certainly found the niche specialty which suits my medical style. I hope that some of these attractions can help you decide for yourself whether the grass is really greener.
So here is my shortlist for what makes general practice such an appealing and exciting specialty program:
Arguably the biggest jewel in the crown of general practice is that ability to make the decisions. We all got into medicine to fix the problems and be able to fix them our way. This is one field of medicine that lets you do just that, however the quote perhaps should have been ‘with great autonomy, comes great responsibility’ for who is more accountable then your friendly neighbourhood GP. No decision made in a consult where you are facing down a brand new issue, with a patient expecting an answer, is going to dance off the tongue. Yet the thought seems to excite us, or terrify us, I can’t decide which. Maybe it is the fact that when an answer is needed we too are truly needed, but more importantly we can help. Perhaps the fact that we can follow our plans to completion and see the end result is the real silver lining to this autonomy in general practice. For me, it is the excitement of being kept on the edge of my seat, as no decision-making dilemma is ever the same and I have ample to keep me entertained.
Which brings me to the next gem of GP life:
If Baskin Robbins is the 31 flavours of the ice-cream world than surely GP is the Baskin Robbins of medicine. Who else can go from vaccinating a 6-week-old baby to excising a melanoma to performing a pap smear all before breaking for a coffee? Medicine for me is when it is raw, unpolished and fresh, at the coalface, working things out. We are not forced into the limitations present in sub-specialty medicine, more we are encouraged to find those areas of medicine we enjoy, that excite us and we have the freedom and ability to tailor our career around them. One of the best parts of general practice is not only the variety of the medicine but also the variety amongst us. No general practitioner is the same and no career in general practice is comparable.
When I rotated through a sub-specialty, I often felt clinic resembled ‘Groundhog Day’, re-living the same conversations over and over with new faces to engage each time and well-rehearsed scripts to common presentations at the ready. The life of a GP is more a ‘choose your own adventure’ sort of story. Are there repetitive aspects? Absolutely, though more often you get to be the narrator to each of your patient’s stories and can decide how 20 or 30 adventures play out each day, with each adventure being as individual and exciting as the next. Now, isn’t that the thrill that attracted us to medicine in the first place? Certainly it was for me.
My final drawcard to GP life:
Before making the decision to jump ship from clearly demarcated lines of hospital training, very little is known about working as a GP. Does it truly need to be a leap of faith? Well in some regards the ability to trial GP work is just not present and, realistically, the true thrill of a career in general practice only reveals itself after at least a six month investment into community placement. Why so long? Well, it might take that long to get a response back for a hospital referral but, truthfully, you cannot know the joy of having patients returning to see you, and only you, because they felt a connection. Seeing a mother, the son and then a mysterious cousin with the same last name, the jigsaw of your GP family is created. As your patients return and invest in you, equally you invest in this ever-increasing patient list who you care about, who you remember and who you will advocate for.
If I can finally get to the point, whatever your reason for doing medicine, the world of general practice can often deliver in ways you might not initially appreciate. Perhaps it is your attraction to clinic-based procedures, perhaps it is being able to do paediatrics intermingled with patients who are not rupturing your eardrums. In my opinion, it is the ultimate specialty, and the true cohesive facilitator of healthcare. I believe that no other specialty is more firmly planted in our patients’ lives than the GP, because no other specialty has the time to be. This only makes us more approachable and likely to solve those curious mysteries of medicine whilst developing and strengthening our patient-doctor relationships. So, why not take the leap of faith? You too could be telling the story of your GP life very soon.