Sam Bailey: Why I'm choosing general practice

An orthopaedic surgeon recently told me not to become a GP because I would get bored of it. It seemed a strange assessment from a consultant who in theatre had just estimated that he had carried out over 10,000 hip replacements during his career. I wasn't convinced that path would offer the sort of varied profession that I'm after.

Since starting my medical degree I have discovered that there are many tribes within medicine and the course gives the opportunity to briefly join these tribes and see where you belong. As someone who started medical school aged 30, for whom flexibility and work-life balance are important, general practice seemed the natural fit for me, but I didn’t want to fall into becoming a GP as the ‘sensible’ choice. So what if GPs are my tribe? After all the sacrifices to get to this point, my career choice must be an active, positive one. 

Rather than helping to cut down my options, each of my clinical placements has brought me a new and unexpectedly fascinating career choice. However, I am acutely aware that this next career I am choosing is one that I will undertake for at least 30 years.

Will the procedure that seems so exciting the first time you see it still be absorbing after the 200th or the 10,000th time? For this reason, the variety of general practice is an enormous draw. I don’t have to choose between child health, women’s health, senior health or even mental health. As a GP I could be seeing each of these presentations in one morning.

Ultimately, I left my job in the charity sector to make more of a direct impact helping people. I love to be in clinic as you learn such a lot about a person from only a brief meeting – through what they choose to tell you to what you sense they are holding back.

I have been lucky enough to sit in with some fantastically skilled GPs who pick up on all of this, whilst problem solving their symptoms, developing a plan and sensitively discussing it. It truly is an art and one that I am sure will keep me learning throughout my career.

I am under no illusion that choosing GP is somehow the easy option. The days will be long, there will be paperwork to complete and I know that there will be some patients I will worry about long after I’ve gone home but it also guarantees that I will have the ever-changing, challenging career that I’ve been so keenly seeking.

  • Sam Bailey is a fourth year medical student at St George's, University of London

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