As a general practitioner, you must be able to deal with whatever or whoever walks through the door – be that a child with a snotty nose and a tendency to tantrum, a teenager struggling with exam stress or an elderly man who mentions in passing that he’s been coughing up blood. Add a ten-minute time limit to the consultation, and you have a challenging, dynamic and exciting career choice.
It’s not just the variety of patients that makes general practice attractive. The job itself has evolved, with many GPs choosing to pursue a special interest in a field of their choice. A GP at my last practice was interested in dermatology and would happily spend an afternoon scraping off moles and brandishing a canister of liquid nitrogen in cryotherapy clinic.
There are also plenty of opportunities to explore different interests within various settings – GPs can work in A&E departments, hospices or even prisons. It is difficult to describe a 'typical day' in general practice, because each day (like every patient) is unique, making the job infinitely appealing.
Each consultation reminds me that to be a doctor is a privilege, and community medicine offers an insight into patients’ lives that few other fields of medicine can offer. Building relationships with patients, often over many years, is a satisfying aspect of the job. Often, a GP will care for many generations of the same family, allowing for greater depth of understanding of patients’ social context.
The social aspect of general practice seems to me to be a cornerstone of the field, and can be very rewarding for a GP. Sometimes, a listening ear is all that the patient needs. It always strikes me that in general practice, a sick note can be as beneficial as an FP10, and it is as important to be equipped with a box of tissues as it is with a stethoscope. General practice offers a challenge to my communication skills, as well as clinical skills.
However, it is this challenge of my clinical skills that particularly draws me towards a career in general practice. During a consultation, a GP must be able to tease out the details of a patient’s history, perform a focussed examination, arrive at a diagnosis (or at least a differential) and decide whether it’s more appropriate to refer or reassure.
A GP doesn’t put a puzzling patient immediately through a fancy CT scanner to make a diagnosis – they must be guided by more basic yet essential clinical observations, which requires great skill and experience. I am Iooking forward to honing these skills as a GP.
To be a GP is a privilege and a challenge, and the job offers unmatched variety. Nothing worth doing is easy – and general practice is, to me, certainly worth doing.
- Laura Bladon is a year 5 medical student at the University of Manchester