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At the heart of general practice since 1960

The privilege of being a doctor

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We are currently immersed in negative press about general practice and I have to confess; I am responsible for some of it. Which is why I feel compelled to write about a recent uplifting experience. 

This year I attended a trainee award ceremony for the first time. I have always been enviously sceptical about high achievers, probably because I was always the girl who came second. So I had not expected I would be moved, humbled and inspired.

There were a variety of awards issued, from leadership and research, to global health and personal achievement. We heard tales of front-line obstetric emergency care in South Africa. We saw horrific pictures of a woman whose face was ravaged by cutaneous lymphoma, and completely transformed after chemotherapy. We were transported to Somalia with a trainee who spent time delivering medical education.

But the highlight was a presentation by Professor Bill Irish and Dr Henry Nwume, an ST3 trainee, who travelled to Sierra Leone last November to offer medical aid during the Ebola crisis. We learnt about the protective attire, the building of ‘ward tents’ and the various zones where patients would circulate before exiting, either alive or dead.

Henry stole the show when he discussed the human stories behind the crisis. His delivery was perfect; slow, reflective and heartfelt. We saw a slide of a young woman in a summer dress looking radiant. Then Henry told how he had watched her disintegrate in the most undignified way possible. With blood extruding from every orifice, she was too weak to even squat over the hole in her ‘cholera’ bed and ended up lying on the floor surrounded by a pool of blood and excrement. And all anyone could do was clean her up and put her back in bed. But somehow this young woman, who had been moved into the death zone, defied all the odds and survived. There was not a dry eye in sight as we looked at the photograph of her – clearly delighted to be in a posh frock.

Yet it wasn’t all success stories. Henry grappled with the ethical conflicts of turning patients away who did not test positive for Ebola, knowing full well they would meet certain death. And there were many sleepless nights about discharging babies into orphanages, where they had a high chance of other fatal infections.

When the presentation was over, there was a standing ovation for Henry and Bill. Many of us were fighting back the tears – tears for the enormous human suffering that exists, tears for the internal conflicts the volunteers must have faced, and tears of gratitude and humility about our privileged lives.

My most overwhelming feeling was how proud and honoured I am to be a doctor and a GP. The media and the Government may demonise and scapegoat us, but nothing can come between the special relationship that develops between a doctor and a patient. And we must never forget that.

Dr Shaba Nabi is a GP trainer in Bristol

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Readers' comments (17)

  • Unfortunately, healthcare is only really appreciated where it is not available or not free. Fortunately, that means it will soon be appreciated in the UK as it will soon by neither of these.

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  • 'And we must never forget that'

    Sorry Shaba but that special bond cannot be measured, QoF'd, moniterised and sold off for profit therefore it matters diddly-squat to the forces that have our professional gonads in the vice.

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  • Meant to rate five stars but failed. Sorry

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  • This sort of writing sounds nice but is actually rather mushy. Ebola is a bad example to give of clinical effectiveness: there is no specific treatment - simple public health measures were the key to containing it.
    And there are lots of jobs where there is a 'special relationship' and unique insight. Being a GP is a well paid job, not radically different from many other skilled trades, but one which can be quite conservative and sometimes a bit sentimental.

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  • Good Lord I might vomit. Stop channelling Patch Adams and remember why you are angry every Monday morning, Shaba. We've all long since had the humanity kicked out of us. Focus on the job in hand, please.

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  • we wont be valued until the NHS is no longer, I bet patients where their is very little healthcare moan about being kept waiting 10 minutes

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  • Shaba, a touching story but absolutely zero to do with being a GP in this country.

    This article is perfect for promoting being a doctor for MSF in war-torn Africa, not UK primary care.

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  • Remember it's the second mouse that gets the cheese.
    Not sure it's relevant, but coming second isn't all bad.

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