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Retraining as a GP - Dr Fiona McKernan

Dr Fiona McKernan, GPST3 in Dorset.
Previously a Paediatric Trainee

General practice… why now?

General practice was never my first choice career. In fact, when I graduated from University, I was interested in both surgery and paediatrics. Although undecided about which one I would pursue, I was certain at the time that I wanted a career in hospital medicine. GP was definitely not for me. How wrong I was on so many levels…

I spent my undergraduate years in my homeland of Northern Ireland, studying medicine at Queen’s University Belfast. After 2 years in foundation training and a year spent abroad in Perth, Australia, I moved back to the UK to pursue a career in Paediatrics. I had always loved working with children and a 4-month rotation in my FY2 year had consolidated this desire further.

Paediatrics was everything I thought it would be. It was fun and rewarding, but it was also intense and demanding. Eventually the strain of rolling rotas, fixed annual leave, staff shortages and constant commuting began to take its toll - not to mention the demands of the job itself alongside training. I began to look at my senior colleagues and their work-life balance, particularly those with young families. Was it really what I personally wanted long term? I realised it wasn’t and began to rethink my career path and started looking into applications for general practice. I had so many friends that were GPs and they all seemed to love it. They were always the ones who met up for social events, managed to pursue hobbies and attend all those weddings that I was constantly missing out on! And so I applied…

I was fortunate enough to receive a place on the Bournemouth rotation (Health Education England Wessex) which was my first choice. This included 18 months in a general practice and 18 months hospital rotation jobs over the three years of training. Transitioning from paediatric medicine back to adults I must admit, was a little challenging at the start, particularly as my first ST1 job was in general practice. With the one-to-one nature of training in an actual practice setting, I was able to discuss any issues or concerns with my educational supervisor and consequently felt very supported throughout this period of huge change. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of time allocated within working hours to allow for regular tutorials and educational sessions.

I have not been disappointed by my time in general practice training to date. Although I have been trained both in foundation years and in another specialty, for the first time I feel like a proper apprentice in this vocational training scheme and know that my hospital rotations are helping me become a better GP which has made it really enjoyable. Admittedly by comparison at times, it can feel more isolated working in a GP surgery away from other trainees, especially when you have been accustomed to meeting peers frequently in hospital medicine. However, regular day release courses (approximately 3 per month) which include small peer group tutorials and lectures from local specialists, allow us to catch up with one another both educationally and socially. This aspect of the training is really refreshing and therapeutic. Based in Dorset, we have even taken our tutorial sessions to the beach which is always nice! Local residential sessions are aimed at developing communication, team working and leadership skills. These are all additional aspects of the training which I feel have been a bonus.

GP has offered me the flexibility I wanted. With no commute or night shifts I feel more settled in my career path. As a mother of two, I am working less than full time so I can complete my training and achieve the work-life balance that I set out to do.

Ultimately, changing from any specialty to another is a big decision. But for me personally, it has been one of the best. I never anticipated all those years ago that I would end up working in general practice - with only a few months left of training, I can honestly say that I enjoy the variety and the unknown that each day brings. No training job is an easy road but by choosing somewhere like Dorset that puts an emphasis on work-life balance, has exceptional education and opportunities, as well as being a nice place to live, makes the whole process much more enjoyable!

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