Kate McFetridge: Why I'm choosing general practice

When I applied to medical school, I wanted to be anything but a GP.

I had this image in my head of a grumpy doctor stuck in a stuffy room all day denying patients antibiotics for their cough, giving a teenager cream for a rash or pacifying an overzealous mother. Back then, I really had no idea what an interesting career general practice was, and I had no idea quite how profoundly my opinion of the job would change. 

When you apply for medical school one of the hardest questions to answer is 'Why do you want to be a doctor?'.

It sounds like an easy question, but ask any applicant and they’ll tell you it is far from it. Medicine is more of a calling for most people than a decision reached after hours of making pros and cons lists. It’s difficult to pin down exactly why medicine is the right career for you. But during my time at medical school I’ve figured out my answer: people.

The medical world is full of interesting and complicated conditions, innovative research and mind-blowing new treatments. All of this is fascinating and important, but the most fascinating and important of all, are the people at the heart of it.

Every patient has a story

That person you’re denying antibiotics? Maybe their mother died of lung cancer, her only symptom when she was diagnosed, a cough. She’d worried she has it too and that her three children could lose their mother like she lost hers.

Someone with a rash? To us its just a rash, to them it might be the one thing making them feel too self conscious to talk to the girl they’ve had their eye on. That overzealous mother? She could have lost a child to meningitis and is terrified her baby’s fever might turn into something life-threatening.

Every patient has a story to tell. They are not just a presenting complaint. They are a whole person with depth and history. It is a privilege and an honour to be in a position to get to know your patients for the fascinating people that they are. To treat each patient not just as a symptom, disease or condition, but as a person.

And that is only one of the many joys of general practice. There’s also being part of a community, working as part of team, new and different challenges to face every day, providing continuity of care, flexibility, managing complex multi-morbidity, the world of opportunities it opens up.

I could go on for days.

I applied to medical school thinking I wanted to do anything but general practice, I leave knowing it’s the only thing I want to do.  

  • Kate McFetridge is a 3rd year medical student at the University of Glasgow

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