Dr Sophie Lanaghan: We need to face our challenges head on

The new chair of the RCGP's Associates in Training Committee explains why her focus will be on the quality of training, wellbeing and morale in the coming year.

‘What a shame,’ said the medical consultant in a dismissive tone as he poured himself a second cup of coffee. Yet again I was met with an expression of disappointment and mild disdain when sharing my decision to train as a GP.

This experience is unfortunately all too common for those of us who have chosen a career in primary care. Despite our best attempts to remedy the situation, it seems that general practice is still seen by many specialists and some members of the public as a soft option; hospital medicine’s sickly and lesser-educated younger sibling.

It was this experience along with my well-known habit of ‘getting stuck in’ that led me to apply in my first year of training to represent my region (Wessex) on the National Associates in Training (AiT) Committee at the RCGP. I was keen to make a change, meet some like-minded people and learn more about the college.

Mountain to climb

Over the next year, I did as I intended – I got stuck in. I educated myself and was educated by others about the workings of general practice at both a national and local level. I became more aware of the mountain we have to climb in order to achieve a level of resource that allows us to practice in a safe and sustainable way.

I learned about training, funding and the GP Forward View. I exposed myself to different points of view and was surprised at the perceived gulf that exists between some grassroots GPs and organisations such as the RCGP. I rapidly realised that there was much work to be done.

When the time came to elect a new chair for the AiT Committee, I didn’t entertain the idea of applying. I’d enjoyed my experience on the committee so far, but knee-deep in my training programme, halfway through a Postgraduate Certificate in Medical Education and working a particularly anti-social paediatric rota, the idea seemed ridiculous.

It wasn’t until I reflected on my reasons for getting involved in the first place that I began to consider putting myself forward. I’d wanted to make a positive change, shape the future of my chosen profession and ultimately develop into a well-prepared and well-rounded GP. The idea seemed less absurd.

When I was elected, my first response was one of mild panic. How would I fit it all in? Who would listen to what I had to say? Then, with the help of a glass of merlot and a good night’s sleep, I pulled myself together. What lies ahead is an exciting year of opportunity and experience.

My hopes for this year 

I hope to be an honest and vocal representative for GP trainees and endeavour to convey their thoughts and concerns as opposed to simply my own.

Being a proud northerner and having trained in Leeds, I understand the frustrations of those who suggest the RCGP is too ‘London-centric’. I appreciate too the financial cost of membership and the need to ensure quality, relevance and value for money for trainees and GPs alike.

I plan to concentrate on a few key areas during my year as chair and, in doing so, focus our combined efforts as a committee to achieve tangible change. The quality of training will remain at the heart of our work and we will strive to ensure all trainees get the best quality training experience.

We will also continue the work our committee has started surrounding morale and wellbeing. There are many forces at work which affect the wellbeing of trainees, many of which I’m powerless against and feel just as keenly as everyone else. Despite this, there are always ways to gain ground and lots of areas we can influence and hopefully, in turn, change for the better. 

I love general practice. It was the best choice for me – the obvious option that was staring me in the face since I started medicine. I like variety, social interaction and a mix of team and independent working. I’m passionate about preventive medicine and education and enjoy autonomy and flexibility. I feel strongly that many worthy candidates are being dissuaded from a career as a GP and that primary care is the lesser for it.

Challenging time

It’s a challenging time and I believe we should be open and vocal as we face these challenges. But we should be just as vocal about the many wonderful things about being a GP.

I hope to spread this message during my time as chair and promote a sense of positivity and optimism amongst trainees and GPs alike. As for the medical consultant, I feel no shame in my choice of career – the only shame lies in the impact this narrow-minded view is having on our profession. 

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