GP Principal and Trainer,
I remember the day like it was yesterday, Wednesday 4th August 2010, my first day as a fully qualified GP. I arrived at the practice with a dry mouth and sweaty palms. What would I do if I didn’t know how to manage a patient? What if I made a mistake? Would I get on with my fellow colleagues? Just the day before I was a GP trainee who could draw on support from my trainer and now, I thought I was on my own. Ten years on and I’m still working full time at the surgery I started at as a qualified GP.
I want to share a few things I have learnt over the last decade and hopefully give you an insight into what it’s like to be a GP.
General Practice is varied
It’s a real privilege to be a GP, you get to look after people from birth to death. I have a personal list size of approximately 2000 patients. Most of them I have grown to know over the last ten years. I know their families and how they interact with each other.
I get variety in the types of patients I see and also in the range of conditions that present. I work eight sessions as a GP, I’m a GP trainer and involved in the education and development of GP trainees. I have a leadership role and act as medical director for our local GP Federation (which is where a number of practices have agreed to work collaboratively). I also carry out some work for the GMC with respect to setting questions for the PLAB exam. In the past I’ve had roles as an event and sports doctor looking after various rugby and football teams. The ability to have a portfolio career is valuable in my opinion as it keeps you fresh, energised and can complement your role as a GP.
General Practice is ‘real’ medicine
It’s as ‘real’ as medicine gets. As a doctor, we spend years in medical school learning about history taking and clinical examination. When I started in hospital placements, often history and examination were paid lip service to and by the time the doctor had seen the patient, they’d already had a battery of blood tests and imaging investigations. I would argue there is nothing more ‘real’ than sitting in front of Mrs Jones and using your communication skills and clinical acumen to determine whether her abdominal pain is the result of irritable bowel syndrome, a urinary tract infection or appendicitis.
General Practice can give you flexibility
I believe it’s the speciality that gives you the most freedom and choice over your life. It really is a family-friendly speciality. I have three children and a wife who also works, so on the days I need to, I schedule my surgery so I can take my children to school. I don’t see any less patients on those days, I just start and finish a bit later. Flexibility is crucial for my family life and lots of other GPs value this aspect of general practice.
You really are a generalist
Your cardiologist’s primary concern is your heart, your ophthalmologist only cares about your eyes but as a GP you’re central to a patient’s care taking into account their beliefs, external factors and expectations. Take for example a patient with diabetes may have the involvement of the GP, practice nurse, the diabetic specialist nurse, the endocrinologist, podiatry and the hospital eye service. Patients can often find it confusing and difficult navigating all the different health care professionals. As a GP, the relationship you often have with a patient enables you to help them to work out what is important right now.
General Practice requires teamwork
Teamwork is vital. You would be forgiven for thinking that you’re on your own. This is not the case as within most practices you have GP colleagues, practice nurses, other health professionals, a practice manager, reception and administration staff. Our practice meets every day after morning surgery to discuss cases, have a chat over a coffee and distribute home visits. This social interaction is not only essential for my sanity, it helps build a good team ethos.
General Practice requires leadership skills
General practice is ever changing, possibly never more so than this year as a result of the COVID pandemic. All GPs are likely to find themselves in leadership roles often without realising. The Royal College of GPs have recognised the importance of leadership training and a small part of the final year for GP training reflects this.
GPs are required to keep up to date
All GPs are required to keep up to date with current medical evidence across the whole scope of practice as well as technology. Annual appraisal is the process where GPs collate evidence to show they are keeping up to date and constantly learning - loved by some GPs but hated by others.
GPs have many transferable skills which means we can work in a range of different roles. I recently heard that if General Practice was a sport, it would be the decathlon. I think that’s a great analogy as many GPs are multi-skilled, multi-talented and have strengths in a lot of areas.