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The waiting game

Back to the future – why I came out of retirement to be a GP again

Dr Daniel Donovan describes how his journey out of retirement and back to the coal face of general practice has enabled him to rediscover his passion for the job

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Dr Daniel Donovan

I can’t remember a sudden ‘lightbulb’ moment. No, after three years of retirement from practice, it dawned on me quite gradually that I missed being a GP. I had changed from trying to avoid ex-patients in supermarkets, to wondering how they were coping in their lives. Also, instead of changing the channel when a medical item appeared on the news, I found I was googling myself back into knowledge.

My supportive wife raised just a single eyebrow when I told her I was thinking of going back to work, silently asking if I was sure. In contrast, some ex-colleagues were more direct – one wit, remembering that I was an approved clinician under the Mental Health Act, asked me if I was allowed to section myself!

Still feeling curious, in October last year I discovered there was a process, the grandly named ‘Induction and Refresher Scheme for General Practice’, or I&R scheme, for doctors who have been away from practice for more than two years. I contacted the head of continuing practice for Health Education England in my region, who, rather traditionally, said that it would be helpful if we could meet face to face to discuss the scheme. He was excellent – asking pertinent questions that probed my retirement, and then my change of heart. I left our meeting enthused that this potential return to practice might just work.

The myriad of forms and boxes to tick included performers list application, DBS check, GMC application, safeguarding training, CPR training and indemnity insurance. Ultimately, although the paperwork was a little daunting, it was nothing compared with the prospect of my first exam in nearly 30 years. In December, I attended the local exam centre where one of my kids had passed their driving theory test, hoping I would follow suit.

My reward for scraping through the MCQ was a trip to the RCGP in May 2017 for a simulated surgery exam, where actors played conundrum patients all afternoon. As I sat in the waiting area, I hoped the college had forgiven me for making a few disparaging remarks in 1990 about their lack of direction.

It wasn’t spectacular when I got my results, but a pass is a pass, and, after filling in all the forms, I was ready to start seeing patients again. The I&R scheme rules are very flexible, and the postgraduate dean was supportive and happy to let me enter the clinical phase of the scheme on a half-time basis.

He sanctioned a bursary which has more than covered the expenses involved. The next step involved finding a practice that would mentor me through the rest of the scheme, and I approached my old teaching practice from 1985 – so long ago that I was then called a GP Trainee. Following productive chats with the Practice Manager and GP Trainer, we shook hands and agreed a start date for my second foray into general practice.

And so, somewhat nervously, nine months after I first considered being a GP again, I saw my first real patient in nearly four years. I sat at my desk, feeling a bit like I was in Donald Trump’s White House, arriving with great anticipation just as everybody else seemed to be scrambling for the exit.

Over the past four months, as I have eased back into practice, I have been reassured how little has changed in the consultation, which remains the cornerstone of primary care. People still like to be looked in the eye, they still like being listened to, and they still seem to respond well to honesty.

I realise that, like a GP registrar, I am somewhat protected from the full-on assault of everything that makes up the role of a GP, but perhaps that is the real point. By stripping back general practice of all its managerial complexities and commissioning dilemmas, I have been able to rediscover the joy of caring for the patient in front of me.

I know it seems against the flow of a policy that wants doctors to be in charge of everything, but being able to concentrate on seeing patients is the reason I have been attracted back to the coal face, and I feel there are many other doctors who hold the same opinion.

I am sure the excellence of British general practice is robust enough to survive a transformation away from the independent small business model that has been so successful over the past fifty years. If it is to flourish in the future, then I think more of the recruitment funds should be channelled into retention. It may mean that, rather than being self-employed, many more pre-retirement GPs will remain as salaried clinicians. If, by this pathway, experienced doctors can be kept in the NHS, then it can only be a good thing for the future of primary care.

Dr Daniel Donovan is an I&R GP in Middlesbrough


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Readers' comments (12)

  • Cobblers

    It is no "lightbulb" moment that you like and want to do what you trained to do, namely see and help patients.

    Not having a pop but strangely it's what I wanted to do but got so p!ssed off with the tidal wave of human misery and deluge of admin crap that it wasn't worth the candle.

    So when I got out of GMS practice I kept seeing people but under my terms. Not too long, not too many and when and where I wanted. The money was secondary but I don't undervalue myself.

    Now I too have rediscovered the fun in it. I leave the surgery smiling and want to keep going.

    However that brings me to the appraisal and revalidation bollux. Reckon I'll call it a day when I have to concern myself on 360 MSF and patient feedback.

    Medicine is not a popularity contest.

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  • I am afraid that myriad of red tape would put most off including myself

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  • Understandable and laudable BUT you are riding into the sunset......on your own.

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  • I took about 3 months off when I retired and then went back to do locums (so a bit like a maternity leave - no red tape - just start again.)

    During my first locum sessions I became increasingly alarmed - I didn't have a clue what was wrong with half the patients - then I relaxed and recalled that I'd never know what was wrong with a lot of the punters.

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  • Wise up you poor poor man

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  • Good to read positive story like this. We are surrounded by too much negativity that even when something encouraging like what you have done is shared it is often met with even hidden antongism if not open disdain . I applaud your return to practice and is important you enjoy your role going forward. I have the pleasure of working with a fantastic GP aged 3 score +10 + a bit more and I value her experience, care and attention that she gives to patients I serve. Will be sad when she finally decides to put away the stethescope and tbh without doctor like her we would be struggling much more to keep afloat! Well done for doing this and writing this piece as well!

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  • Vinci Ho

    Salute and respect.
    ‘’It's not about "deserve". It's about what you believe. ‘’
    Diana Price , aka Wonder Woman.
    As I always , the day when I stop believing what I am saying and doing is the day I walk away . Until then , the battle goes on against our enemies.....

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  • I admire your determination and dedication. So very well done.
    However if the NHS is serious about attracting returning GPs this must change. Enforcing them to pass MCQs and then carry out a long unpaid supervision intended for GPs initially training is farcical and completely disrespectful to your years of experience.
    The fact that you say you only just passed the practical proves the testing procedure itself is bullshit and not fit for purpose.
    A 2-4 week intensive refresher course would be plenty.
    It is hard to believe we are so desperately short of GPs.

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  • Well done for your perseverance! As an ex-partner now sessional, I have to say that I love the clinical work. There is a big case for being a clinician in a well run and well funded large organisation as long as We have a rock solid union and a world class academic College.... ah, now there’s the weakness in the UK!

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  • Yes, i agree with A GP of 27years - Nursey practiotioners can do a 2 wks conversion course or a few week prescribing course and suddenly see any patient that walks through the door. The same is true for pharamcist who have never been trained clinically in their under and post graduate training! For retired ex-GPs not the case

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  • Vinci Ho

    Interesting comments
    Looks like the subject of overegulation has surfaced again . Thanks to GMC as well as the college.
    Recommend you to read the complex case story of Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba ( paediatrician) .
    GMC is appealing to High Court against a decision of a medical practitioner tribunal . This will be heard on 7/12/2017. So it is better to reserve comment after this date as a respect to the judiciary.
    BMJ has been reporting and following on the story closely.

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  • I am a full time partner in a 15,000 pt practice and I absolutely love the work. We try to keep the paper work to a minimum and the surgery runs on a high level of trust. When we manage our own affairs things go well and we all enjoy the work. the only time we get hassle is the intrusion of outside agencies whether Capita and their cluelessness, or the CCG and their obsession with paperwork or the CQC with their vindictive pettiness. The authorities need to leave us alone more to get on with the job. Incidentally we have also been able to recruit and enthuse excellent young partners. Long live medium sized general practice.

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