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GP husband and wife - Dr John Pike and Dr Stephanie Franz

Continuing our occasional series on GP families, we look at Dr John Pike and his wife Dr Stephanie Franz, whom he met when he visited her doctor friend in Berlin

Continuing our occasional series on GP families, we look at Dr John Pike and his wife Dr Stephanie Franz, whom he met when he visited her doctor friend in Berlin

Husband - Dr John Pike

In 1996, while I was a partner in a practice in Bristol, a German medical student called Alex came to spend two weeks with me studying general practice.

We remained good friends after he returned to Berlin, and in 2001 when his first child was born, he asked me if I would be the baby's godfather.

I readily agreed and went to visit my godson in Berlin. One Saturday night Alex took me out for a drink with a girl called Steffie, a friend of his from his medical school days in the former East Berlin. My fate was sealed in a bar called "Alea Iacta"!

Steffie and I started going out together later in the year. This involved one of us flying on the London – Berlin route every couple of weeks for a romantic weekend away. It also involved a lot of extra locum work for me to pay for the flights!

During our weeks apart we kept in daily contact by e mail or ‘phone. Conducting an international relationship certainly helped us to focus on whether we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. I had no doubt whatsoever about that one! Since Steffie's English was already near-perfect, and since my German was rudimentary, it was clear that our future would be in England.

A few months after our marriage, Steffie moved to Bristol where I had lived since 1993.

At the time I met Steffie, I was enjoying a portfolio career of GP locum work and computing consultancy work with the NHS and RCGP. I could book locum work at any time I pleased and would often be away from home on computing work. I was also out a lot in the evenings, playing violin in orchestras or chamber music groups, going to the gym and playing tennis.

When Steffie moved in, things changed considerably. I had to rapidly adjust to the different joys of married life. I put on weight! Our daughter Hannah was born less than a year after Steffie moved over, and our life blossomed further, but it also meant restrictions on our socializing in the evening and on working hours.

We often talk about how medicine differs in the UK and Germany. In Germany, there are no waiting lists and all patients are seen quickly, regardless of suspicion of cancer or of private insurance (private insurance is mainly taken out when, above a certain income, it is cheaper than the compulsory state insurance). Therefore, there is no need to manage waiting lists or to have sophisticated systems in place for referrals from GPs.

All hospital specialties are represented in the community and patients can see a specialist easily. Women will have a gynaecologist they see at least once a year for gynaecological problems, for cervical screening or for antenatal and postnatal care.

Children will usually be seen by a paediatrician rather than the GP. The role of nurses is much more traditional and they don't prescribe or run chronic disease clinics. I had thought of Germany as being the ultimately bureaucratic nation, but in reality there is generally less red tape there, and there is no appraisal or revalidation.

Steffie has found that General Practice here is more interesting than in Germany, since we cover a wider spectrum of conditions and since we treat conditions that would be referred earlier in Germany.

When Steffie first started as a GP registrar in the UK, she was more inclined to refer or to admit than doctors who had practiced in the UK from the outset, but she quickly learnt how things are done differently here. Steffie did most of her GP training in the UK, and her style of Medicine is now the same as mine.

Steffie completed her GP training last year, and joined me on the GP locum circuit in Bristol. Hannah is now four, and we both fit our locum work around her school times.

Being locums we have maximum flexibility in being able to book leave during school holidays and for study days we wish to attend.

In the past I have been a partner for 5 years and a salaried doctor for 3 ½ years, but I have always been happiest as a locum. I qualified as a GP in 1991 and Steffie has only just qualified but this has been helpful to us both in some ways. Steffie has gained from my experience, whilst she has passed on to me information that she has acquired preparing for exams.

I have also been very fortunate in having a sympathetic ear from someone who knows the demands of General Practice herself.

Wife - Dr Stephanie Franz

We married six years ago in a registry office in East-Berlin where I was living at the time. Half a year later I arrived in Bristol, despite the removal van, loaded with books and driven by John, blowing its head gasket somewhere between Hamburg and Reading services.

The following weekend we had a Church blessing of our marriage. John's mother famously said before the service: "It's not a blessing, it's a bloody miracle!" Certainly for me it has been.

My life and work have changed beyond recognition since meeting John. For 10 years I had lived in Berlin, Germany's most interesting and vibrant city. I socialised, listened to "Massive Attack" and "Portishead" and relished the "Berlinale", the annual international film festival.

I had enjoyed an exciting life as a medical student and then as a junior doctor, working in the high adrenaline environment of the A&E department and in the Medical Outpatient Clinic of the Charité University Hospital, teaching students, taking part in research and going to meetings all over the world.

Although I was aiming to become a General Practitioner, I was not certain when and how exactly this would be, since formal training rotations are unusual in Germany. But this meant that I was able to pursue my interest in acupuncture after attending courses in Berlin, Munich and Beijing and my boss in the Outpatient Clinic encouraged me to treat patients with acupuncture.

Then I met John, violinist, lifelong Johann Sebastian Bach enthusiast, globetrotter and Bristol GP.

I now live on an island in a foreign country as a very happily married woman with a wonderful husband and daughter. I work part time as a self-employed locum GP and we aim to spend as much time together as a family as possible.

Every morning I listen to Terry Wogan and at the weekend we watch rental DVDs. My acupuncture needles have all expired and I do one thing after the other, rather than everything at the same time - for example, the MRCGP modules. This means that I am one of the last GPs doing "oMRCGP".

I have also acquired an amazing knowledge of Johann Sebastian Bach and of his music!

Being married to a very experienced GP has smoothed my steep learning curve of working in the NHS. We support each other unconditionally. We constantly learn from each other and are never short of (wanted and occasionally unwanted) good advice for the other!

We are able to trust each other completely and to discuss cases freely without any fear of being misunderstood or misjudged and with total certainty of confidentiality. We understand certain frustrations, dilemmas and pressures without many words.

Any sentence starting with "Today I had a patient who …" is going to be of great interest, whether it is a rare condition, a particularly sad case or simply the longest shopping list ever, containing the most red flags! We share our successes, but also the difficulties.

We seem to agree on everything that is important to us and share the same sense of humour, especially about ourselves.

It is indeed "a bloody miracle"!

Dr Stephanie Franz, Dr John Pike and their daughter Hannah Dr Pike Dr Pike

In Germany there are no waiting lists and all patients are seen quickly.

Dr Franz Dr Franz

Being married to an experienced GP has definitely smoothed my transition into the NHS.

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