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Independents' Day

What I’ve learned from... Painting as a GP

Former GPC negotiator Dr Judy Gilley explains how painting offered stress relief during her career, as well as a vocation after retirement

Dr Judy Gilley - online


Dr Judy Gilley

Age 66

Location Barnet, north London

Role Professional artist, retired GP and former GPC negotiator

Over a career in general practice starting in the 1970s I learned time and time again that variety is crucial in providing a balance and keeping sane. Different roles using different GP skills enriched and enlightened my day-to-day contact with patients, and brought new perspectives and insights to bear on consultations.

Develop balance during a medical career

GP artist - online

Over the decades I have integrated being a full time GP with teaching undergraduates, practising psychosexual medicine, chairing our local medical committee, being a GPC member and finally a GPC negotiator and deputy chair of the GPC.

After five years as chief executive of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire LMCs, I set up my own primary care consultancy working with practices, LMCs, and other NHS bodies. These different roles cross-fertilised each other. There were undoubtedly tensions in combining roles, but I was fortunate in having supportive partners, a great practice team and an indulgent family.

However, what really kept me alive creatively has been painting. I painted whenever I could carve out the time and as an undergraduate organised the annual London Hospital Art exhibition (but didn’t have the confidence to submit my own work at the time).

Many a tedious medical meeting has been lightened for me by sketching; although I suspect that some of the politicians with whom we negotiated would be less than flattered by my caricatures.



Nourish a passion that transcends medicine, and continues after retirement

GP artist- online

Once I was no longer a GPC negotiator, I felt free to indulge my passion and took a range of classes (use of different media, life drawing, even picture framing) to refine my skills.

Most recently an intensive year’s course facilitated my transition to becoming a professional artist: the focus was on the business side of the art world (ghastly), entering competitions, developing your website, and selling your work. I became part of a network of artists with whom I regularly exhibit, share studio space and attend exhibitions.

This summer’s activities included participating in an art fair, being a guest artist at an ‘open studio’ and exhibiting with the Medical Art Society at the Royal Society of Medicine. It’s hectic but invigorating to talk to art lovers about your work. I now sell with a fair amount of success; selling is one way of giving lasting pleasure to someone who falls in love with a painting.

Painting for me provides the stimulus of constant experimentation, and the intellectual challenge of problem solving when a painting doesn’t go well. Creating takes planning, knowledge, the courage to risk failing and learn from failure.

Running pre-retirement courses for GPs I’ve been saddened by how many colleagues don’t have a consuming interest to help them find fulfilment in retirement.

Explore new avenues that help develop new friendships

Medicine can be a lonely life. Being part of the North London network of artists has enriched my life.

For those with an artistic bent, the Medical Art Society organises a range of activities including life drawing, expeditions to paint together and recently I did my first clay sculpture on a weekend course. New members are welcome - contact Dr Jeanette Cayley for more information.

GP artist- online

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  • Dr Judy Gilley - online

Readers' comments (2)

  • Susan Kersley

    I totally agree with you! Spending time on creative activity is so important as a way to balance your life and cope with the stress of working as a doctor. Creativity is increased when you take some time each week to engage in an activity such as painting, drawing, playing music, singing, or writing. If you used to love doing one or more of these but are too busy these days, then commit to a short time, say half an hour each week, and experience again the pleasure of being totally absorbed in one of these activities.

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  • Thanks, Judy! So many people still think that medicine and the visual arts don't go together, but you have made a successful career in each profession..

    Jeanette Cayley, Honorary Secretary, The Medical Art Society (a forum for doctors, dentists and vets who enjoy painting, drawing, printmaking or sculpture)

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