Dr Judy Jackson, GP in London.
Previously a Consultant Psychiatrist
I was a consultant psychiatrist before I retrained in 2000 as a GP - I have never looked back and never regretted my decision.
I was in my early 40s before I started training as a GP. I had been a hospital based psychiatrist and began to feel less and less enthusiastic. Working in a sub specialty at a time when there were a lot of tensions in the world of mental health care, I felt ill equipped to fight the various corners that needed fighting and knew that managerial roles were not for me as I was (and still am) a patient centred doctor.
I had been thinking about what to do when I had a moment of clarity on the top of a bus in central London. The bus was full of people of all ages, shapes, sizes and nationalities. I thought to myself “That’s it, I think I need to be a generalist", so my journey to retrain and become a GP began on that day.
It was surprisingly easy! I had a lot of support from the deanery and was able within a few months to get a place on the GP training scheme working part time (60%). I changed overnight from the role as a consultant psychiatrist to an SHO in obs and gynae in the same hospital. I had a really wonderful experience. It was infinitely better than previous junior posts when I’d felt dropped in at the deep end.
My first hospital job included the gynae clinic. As a psychiatrist I was used to taking a really thorough history which made talking to my first patient easy. Then I realised two things - firstly I needed to examine her and secondly I had to actually tell her what I thought was wrong! Luckily basic gynae examinations hadn't changed much in the 20 odd years since I had done one and more importantly the senior reg. and consultants gave close and expert supervision. I can’t tell you how pleasantly surprised I was to get an assessment of my learning needs in a system where someone actually checked your competency. Even nights on call were enjoyable as there was support and help and I had a great bunch of colleagues, most it has to be said were a great deal younger than me. I was also amazed at the input from the consultants who were such helpful and good teachers.
I spent two years as a GP registrar and ended up with three trainers in two practices over the training period. I was in the West Middlesex (London) scheme and attended the VTS half day release plus residential courses. The GPs I met who contributed to the teaching were wonderful and genuinely inspiring. I went on a consultation skills course with actors role playing, which is such a great teaching tool. The whole ethos and ideology of the training sat very well with me and I took to it like a duck to water, loving every minute. I had been an observer in a Balint group in my past life as a junior psychiatrist and was familiar with some of the psychosocial dimensions of the work, but had not anticipated the pleasure of being a GP and how well it suited my skill set and personality. I relished the variety, the continuity, the range of people and problems and being able to be a patient centred doctor.
I am now a GP of 15 years, a trainer and an appraiser working in a busy practice with a lovely primary care team. Obviously there are huge pressures on the NHS and primary care, however the nature of human illness and distress seems to me to be a constant. The job is endlessly fascinating never ever boring and much of the time I feel valued and appreciated by my patients, which makes it, for me deeply rewarding.
I have never stopped enjoying the work, and the only regret I have is that I wasn't brave enough to make the change earlier.