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A day in the life: Dr Sue Booth

Dr Sue Booth, a portfolio GP in Tameside, Greater Manchester, outlines a typical day, starting with old dogs and finishing with Jonny Depp.

Dr Sue Booth, a portfolio GP in Tameside, Greater Manchester, outlines a typical day, starting with old dogs and finishing with Jonny Depp.


I am woken from sleep as usual by my husband and the dogs (we rescue old golden retrievers who can only sleep until 5am). So we let them out and go back to bed with a cup of tea, while I try to remember what I have planned for the day.


An early start today since I am an examiner at the fourth-year OSCE, an exam for medical students. Having negotiated the rush hour traffic and actually found the examination room – our local hospital is undergoing extensive renovations and so finding the right room is in itself a challenge – the examiners have their pep talk and settle down to await the candidates.

My station is ‘vasectomy counselling', and so I have an actor pretending to be the patient. He is meant to ask about the procedure, failure rates and risk factors. Some of the students give very bizarre answers such as ‘When you have your vasectomy it doesn't work straight away, so you have to wear a condom all the time'!

One candidate insisted the success rate of a vasectomy was one in 2,000, and another candidate wanted to make an abdominal approach to the surgery using a general anaesthetic. Trying to keep your face straight and not blurt out comments is challenging indeed.


After the round of OSCE, I move on to interviewing potential medical students for the 2008 entry. We have to avoid the obvious question, ‘Why do you want to be a doctor?' so we go for the more subtle ‘What experiences in your life have made you realise that medicine is for you?'. Some of the 17-year-olds are so mature and have had so many worthwhile experiences that it is extremely difficult to choose between them.

One chap had spent many hours working voluntarily at a hospice for dying children. I wanted to say to him ‘Can you start work as a doctor tomorrow?' His compassion and empathy were outstanding.


I share lunch with the rest of the interviewers and compare notes. We all find it terribly difficult to choose between the candidates, they are of such high calibre.

Although the interview process has been constructed with input from the psychology department, different interviewers are looking for different qualities in the potential students. As a GP, I regard empathy and the ability to communicate as the most important of skills, but other colleagues are sometimes seeking something else. ‘Interviewing' is an unpaid task but one that I greatly enjoy.

Trying to spot those who can not only cope with the commitment required for the course but who will then stand the stress of actually being a doctor in the 21st century is almost impossible.


Putting one of my other hats on, I meet one of my appraisees. Being an appraiser is quite a difficult job but always stimulating and rewarding. Appraisal was introduced while I was taking a break from medicine, and of course the whole process evolved partly from the Harold Shipman episode (his was a neighbouring practice to mine). Whether this current method of appraisal would have discovered Shipman, however, is debatable – he would probably have been an appraiser.

Once again, during an appraisal I discover some new and fascinating courses that my appraisees have attended. Recent ones have been ‘How to get the best out of an interpreter' and ‘How to be a doctor on a cruise liner'. Maybe I have been fortunate so far but all the doctors I have appraised have approached their appraisal with enthusiasm and good humour.

In some there is an initial irritation when I make first contact – ‘Oh, is it that time of year again?'. I have to confess that is my initial comment too when my appraiser approaches me. But generally people bow to the inevitable.


I arrive home to find my husband cooking our evening meal, having done the shopping and organised the children. (No he isn't available for hire.) But I have to defer the glass of wine until later since I have an evening shift at the out-of-hours co-operative.

Working as a portfolio GP means that every day is different, and although I do a regular slot at a local practice, patient continuity is sometimes lacking – even more so at the out-of-hours job.

Telephone triaging is particularly taxing, especially requests for visits from nursing homes. It is impossible to tell whether the patient has just coughed once to clear their throat or whether they are at death's door. On my last triage shift I seemed to get all the calls from the nursing homes, consequently my percentage rate for visits was over 15%. With luck it will have evened out by the time the audit comes round.


I arrive home and finally get to that glass of wine and slump in front of the TV with my eldest daughter to watch Pirates of the Caribbean. There is nothing better at the end of a long day than to watch Johnny Depp flouncing around in a pirate outfit.

Dr Sue Booth

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