But sometimes we have no choice; many of our duties fall outside the remit of mere medical science. General practice is a broad church, as for some reason patients believe that our expertise extends way beyond medicine into the realms of law, religion, relationships and even international politics.
We sail boldly into uncharted seas. 'Here Be Dragons,' the old cartographers would have said, we never know what might be coming through that surgery door. But when we see someone is doing something stupid, we are morally obliged to intervene, despite our lack of expertise, and in my case, lack of interest.
Joe had been droning on for what seemed like days: he was fat, bald, ugly and poor, he had halitosis and crumbly fingernails, he had a personality like Spike Milligan (without the sense of humour), his wife had left him, his kids all had ASBOs and despised him, his parents had disowned him out of sheer embarrassment, he had lost his job, he had been dropped from his football team (the thirds), his dog had just been run over, his trailer had burned down and he supported Leeds United. His life was a disaster and he felt that nobody loved him, which all in all sounded to me like a pretty accurate if slightly optimistic assessment.
'So what should I do, doctor?'
I awoke from my torpor, realising that some response (beyond yawning) was required, and wondering how to end this torture, short of self-mutilation.
'I usually do not like meddling in other people's lives, but perhaps, after all, in these tragic circumstances, I do have some advice which would be worth listening to,' I said.
'What is it, doctor,' he asked, leaning forward eagerly and unpleasantly (he was in denial about his halitosis, another unloveable character trait).
I leaned back reciprocally from the unpleasant miasma.
'I think that you should never tell that story to anyone else,' I said, leaning back. 'It makes you sound like a total loser.'
Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Email him at GPcolumnists@haymarket.com.