Viewpoint: Why I'm Choosing General Practice: Becka McClaughry

On starting my medical degree, there was one question inevitably doing the rounds: 'What kind of doctor do you want to be?'

Becka McClaughry: 'You are privileged to walk with patients as they navigate health and social care.'
Becka McClaughry: 'You are privileged to walk with patients as they navigate health and social care.'

In one such conversation I found myself in a group of prospective anaesthetists, surgeons and trauma specialists, all enthused with confidence that their career choice would provide them with an endless stream of invigorating adrenaline rushes.

When the question was posed to me, I replied that I hoped to become a GP. There was a hush in the conversation, until one brave soul asked: 'But why?' Wouldn’t it be really boring seeing an endless stream of colds and fungal toenails, all the hypochondriacs and worried well? Was I looking for an easy ride?

It’s just about the most interesting and most challenging specialism out there

I was pretty shocked by this. Easy ride? No such thing! Fungal toenails? Sure, I’m bound to see a few manky feet in my time, but there’s so much more to general practice. In fact, I reckon it’s just about the most interesting and most challenging specialism out there.

So why general practice?

It’s because I care about people, and I want to work in a specialism where I’m the first person on hand to help those in need.

It’s because you need great communication skills, and I love getting to know my patients and engaging with their whole story, not just a medical condition.

It’s because of the unique long-term relationship between patients and their GPs, working with people at the beginning and the end of life, and dealing with all the medical and emotional challenges that brings.

It’s because you are privileged to walk side by side with patients as they navigate health and social care, facing uncertainty and hope, turmoil and joy.

It’s because general practice is so diverse – that fungal toenail could be followed by endocarditis, and you never know what’s going to come through the door next.

It’s because you have to be capable of dealing with the seriously ill as well as the worried well, with the same level of consideration, professionalism and empathy.

It’s because as a GP, you can not only be a clinician but also a business partner, an administrator, a commissioner and a researcher.

Being a GP is certainly not for the faint-hearted, nor for those looking for an easy time. You need a good understanding of every system of the body, every pathology, every unexpected presentation. You need to be able to work under considerable pressure in terms of time and demands. But most importantly, you need to be able to understand and deal with people at their most vulnerable, emotionally and medically. Being the doctor that people come to first when they’re in need is a huge privilege and not a role to be entered into lightly.

It’s time to banish the stigma and erase the myths around general practice. It’s an awesome specialty and it’s time to really start shouting about all the things that make general practice great – I’ve only just started my list!

  • Becka is a student at Nottingham University

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