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From the heroic spider- trapper to the empathetic ear for ‘women's problems', two GPs describe life as the only male and female GPs in their practices

Only man

Dr Tim Harrison stands out as sole male in a surgery otherwise staffed entirely by women. He says he likes it that way, fits in perfectly and has no regrets over quitting as the senior of eight partners in an all-male practice two years ago to take a salaried post at his current PMS practice in Newcastle-

under-Lyme, Staffordshire.

He works with three female GPs and apart from feeling obliged to trap the odd spider, fix screws and hold doors open, he feels his gender doesn't impact greatly on his job.

‘It certainly hasn't been isolating and maybe I'm odd. I'm accustomed to being dominated – if that's the word – by women,' says Dr Harrison, who lives with his wife and three daughters.

Dr Harrison describes himself as ‘old school' but doesn't use his seniority or maleness to command his colleagues. ‘While the other GPs are not the newest of the new generation of GPs, they're confident in their roles. I certainly wouldn't try to push them around – they're very active members of the practice.'

Dr Harrison weathers the occasional gender joke from colleagues and concedes women GPs sometimes have the edge.

‘I've become aware that the female GPs are intuitively better at team working – women tend to be more flexible. It's also a standing joke that if I'm doing something, I can't cope with another task, while they do a hundred things at once. I'm not sure how true that is in reality,' he says.

The practice also has no ‘deliberate' policy for the separation of clinical caseload but Dr Harrison says he suspects an audit would show he got more than his fair share of urology, but less gynaecology. His practice runs a chaperone policy – not an issue at his old practice where he worked for 25 years and was well-known to all patients. ‘The female partners have sometimes got messages from male patients who feel uncomfortable and they say to them see me,' he adds.

Security is also an issue for the GPs and Dr Harrison says: ‘We share the work equally, but if there was a particular issue about a home visit I would go. At six foot, I'm bigger than most people.'

Only woman

Single mother-of-three Dr Mehr Ahmed is very conscious of her position as not just the only woman in a six-GP practice in Crowland, near Peterborough, but also the ‘newest'. She joined the practice in October last year after an 18-year career break. She was fresh off a VTS – retraining as a GP after starting her career working in hospitals in Pakistan. She says the ‘heavy odds stacked against me' finding a job included the length of her career break, gender, race and the fact she has a family.

Having overcome the hurdles that made it ‘difficult' to find work, she admits: ‘I did not feel I could come in with further baggage of family-related issues, or be perceived to be asking for special treatment' – in relation, for example, to childcare issues.

She feels ‘there is a little bit of my male colleagues not understanding' the demands of being a single mother-of-three working full-time as a GP. But despite some feeling of isolation, she enjoys working with all-male colleagues, especially as they are so chivalrous. ‘I'm quite comfortable being the only woman and I also feel my colleagues are.

‘I think they extend a bit more courtesy to me as a woman. It is a nice environment to work in. It's not confrontational and I haven't encountered any problems so far.'

However, the age-old story of women GPs getting all the female patients is a problem for Dr Ahmed, although she manages to avoid doing all the gynaecological work thanks to the special interest of a colleague.

‘Increasingly a lot of female patients are coming to see me because they would prefer to see a woman GP and it does bother me sometimes. A female GP provides choice for patients, particularly female patients to see a woman doctor, not just for gynae problems but also stress and depression. They feel a woman can empathise much more.'

She says getting her views across at practice meetings is sometimes a problem, more because of her ‘new GP' status than gender.

Interviews by Emma Wilkinson and Rob Finch

Dr Harrison is accustomed to being dominated, if that's the word, by women – he's seen here with Dr Alison Deaville (left) and Dr Angela Lawrence

Dr Ahmed: did not feel she could come in with baggage of family-related issues

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