Back in school, general practice work experience had perhaps been the least exciting, mainly because it involved more sitting down than ward based placements and exposure to cases which we had neither the emotional maturity nor medical knowledge to be able to process into meaningful experience.
Perhaps because of this, the suggestion of general practice as a specialty when we arrived at medical school was generally met with a wrinkling of the nose and an awkward shifting from one foot to the other. No one would outright rule it out, but there was no enthusiasm either.
Things changed after our third- and fourth-year placements in local practices; not just for myself, but notably for my friends that had practically had to drag themselves through the waiting room doors on the first day.
What was so wonderful about general practice was, perhaps rather obviously, how general it was. In the first day I had encountered clinical signs, symptoms and experiences as varied and unique as every patient that entered the room.
As time went by, my experience only grew richer; there was none of the sense of repetition that my colleagues had worried about. Two patients with the same presenting symptoms resulted in two completely different differentials, due to the sharp reasoning and excellent examination skills of the GP.
Two patients with the same complaints had completely different emotional needs, and therefore needed a new style of consultation and a different set of communication skills.
The diverse and plentiful armoury of clinical competencies it takes to be a successful GP intrigued me, it is a career that is much more challenging than I once imagined. It was intellectually stimulating and a joy to be able to take pieces of my learning from across most of my modules, and piece them together to try and understand and assess every patient.
Another hugely appealing aspect of the role of the GP is that it involves none of the ‘cliffhanger’ endings that hospital placements often leave you with. To see patients get better, to guide them and support them if they don’t, to see the milestones and transition points that patients go through must be a real honour for every GP, and I hope that I might one day be a part of that unique privilege.
There is no doubt that morale is low among my peers, but I am hopeful that with the realisation that a career in general practice encompasses the reasons we came to study medicine in the first place, many of us will take on the rewards and challenges of a GP career.
The NHS cannot survive without a strong workforce of passionate and talented GPs at its helm, and it is my firm belief that as many students as possible should be encouraged to enjoy the opportunity that this career gives them.
Madeleine Gray is a phase 3a medical student at the University of Sheffield