Catherine Acton: Why I'm choosing general practice

I want to be a GP because I'm ambitious.

In the first few years of of medical school I found myself apologising for and defending my preference for general practice. People frequently said things like: ‘you’re a girl so you must want to be a GP so you’ll have time to have kids’, effectively turning one of the positives of general practice into a negative.

When I attended the RCGP conference in Liverpool last year, I realised that I should never be made to feel guilty. I was surrounded by passionate and motivated GPs that were fighting for real change for their patients. There were also countless other ambitious and enthusiastic students who all unashamedly wanted to be GPs.

I don’t apologise any more. General practice is a diverse and exciting career and should be respected as such.

GPs are now specialists in general medicine. Any condition can appear at any given time meaning that clinical reasoning skills are incredibly important. In a moment the speciality at hand can change from orthopaedics to paediatrics to gynaecology.

The art of medicine

The art of medicine is also crucial in general practice. You get the chance to fully exercise whole-person care, following people’s stories, sometimes through many generations. A GP can build up invaluable relationships with patients and guide them through many aspects of their lives. I love the idea of seeing such a range of specialities across all ages and using all my intellectual and interpersonal skills on a day-to-day basis.

General practice is entering a really exciting time with more variety than ever in the range of career options available. GPs can do anything and everything from having a special interest to teaching medical education.

I have had multiple general practice placements while at medical school including one in a deprived area of Manchester and one in a rural practice in the tiny Scottish town of Fort Augustus. Even these short experiences have given me an insight into just how much choice general practice offers. I could be part of a small community, driving round Loch Ness each morning or live in the middle of a vibrant city and jump on the tram. These vastly different options are what makes general practice so interesting.

GPs are the frontline of the NHS and we need more of them if it is to survive and flourish. It is a challenging career but also a hugely rewarding one. It comes with great benefits, including a work-life balance. Where my general practice career path will lead I’m not yet sure, but I’m excited to find out.

  • Catherine Acton is a fourth year medical student at the University of Manchester

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