My vices are a sure sign of a good doctor

A few years ago, when I was presenting a TV series on health and had become a Z-list celebrity and was being pursued by fashion companies as an underwear model (for the fuller figure, you will understand), I was given a quick-fire interview by a magazine (a glossy, it goes without saying, even we Z-listers have our standards, though I draw the line at nudity).

You'll be familiar with the format. What are your favourite films? Ghostbusters and Independence Day (you feel that this could actually happen). What books would you take to a desert island? Anything by Dostoevsky and Proust (no, really). Any funny stories? My auntie Mamie fell off a seaside donkey and broke her hip. When are you happiest? When I'm with my family (no, really). What is your ambition? To work for world peace and buy everyone a pair of soft slippers. Whom do you most admire in your field of work? Dr Kildare, Dr Seuss and George Clooney.

I was also asked about my bad points: 'lazy and deceitful', I said, and then my good points: 'easy-going and tactful'.

Which are, when it comes down to it, practically the same thing. The same vice that makes me prefer sitting in a comfortable chair in a warm cosy office with a big mug of tea and a jam doughnut to chasing round the countryside in the wind and rain is the same virtue that makes me relaxed and open and non-judgmental and able to listen equably to the trivial garbage that is inflicted on us every day.

The same vice that makes me deceitful, scheming and a good liar also makes me tactful and able to dissimulate skilfully depending on what I consider to be appropriate for each circumstance; certainty, at times when I am very uncertain, or imaginative fabrication, for sick notes and jury service exemption certificates (you can't go wrong with 'severe viral infection').

It is not possible in general practice to be completely truthful; as the immortal Frank Cannon once said (in between wolfing down a Big Mac, large fries and super-size bagel): 'The truth is like the rain, it doesn't care on whom it falls'. Our vices are indistinguishable from our virtues, but whatever we call them, they remain mandatory qualities for general practice.

Really, honestly, I absolutely mean that.

Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Email him at GPcolumnists@haymarket.com.

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