Maggie Cheung: Why I'm choosing general practice

At the end of my third year at university, having just completed my BSc, I was thinking about leaving medicine.

I had wanted to be a doctor because I enjoyed interacting with people, listening to their stories and trying my best to make them better; yet three years had passed and I had not seen a single patient. I convinced myself that clinical years would be different, and challenged myself to continue.

It was the best decision I could have made. As I rotated through different specialties, I enjoyed each of them immensely: being hands-on in A&E was exciting, the diagnostic process of neurology was intellectually challenging, assisting in surgical procedures was eye-opening. However, general practice stood out for me as the career I wanted to pursue.

For me, the fact that anything could come through the door is incredibly exciting. In one morning, a GP can see patients ranging from a 6-week-old baby to a 92-year-old gentleman.

Patients will present with a range of medical conditions from simple musculoskeletal back pain to cord compression – a neurological emergency. I would argue that there is never a dull moment in general practice as the variety of patients and their clinical presentations is second to none.

Patient-centred care at its best

What's more, general practice demonstrates patient-centred care at its best. Each patient is treated as an individual rather than an illness.

I have always found that when I clerk patients on the wards, the stories they tell are what stay in my mind. I will never forget the cello player who can never play again due to his MS, the kindergarten teacher who fainted in the classroom during a thyroid storm, or the elderly ladies who looked after each other all their lives, and who requested hospital beds next to each other at the end of their lives.

I love that in general practice we are able to explore further how patients’ health impact their lives, rather than placing the illness at the centre of the conversation.

I also enjoy the holistic approach of general practice. GPs are often in charge of co-ordinating the patient’s care and being their advocate. By working with members of the multidisciplinary team, GPs are able to provide care driven by the patient’s needs in a wider social context. In addition, GPs can provide continuity of care.

I always wonder what happens to patients whom I meet in hospital after they are discharged, and often I’ll never know. The beauty of general practice, in my opinion, is the privilege of following a patient’s journey and providing them with care, ‘from cradle to grave’.

I believe that general practice is the most vital part of the NHS. While it is facing ongoing administrative challenges and a recruitment crisis, it is important for all of us to remember how fascinating and rewarding it is to be a GP, and continue to provide the best care we can for our patients.

  • Maggie Cheung is a year 5 medical student at University College London

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