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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Café? Fitness trainer? What’s your Plan B?

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I get to meet lots of GPs. Partners, salaried, locums. I’ve noticed over the past few months one thing that unites them all. Other than the hatred of Jeremy Hunt. And Theresa May.

It’s that they all have a contingency plan. Their personal Plan B.

Why would you ever need a back-up plan?

I have one colleague who has bought a sandwich shop. Another is going to run a café. One is retraining as a personal trainer. Another has started designing websites. You name it, we are planning it. The less imaginative can walk into a private GP job any day of the week for a lot more cash and a lot less hassle. And these aren’t the jazzy few clued-up entrepreneurs you see in the press. All these are real frontline GPs who are taking the end of their careers seriously. 

This would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. Why, after training for half your life and investing time, money, blood, sweat and tears into a career in general practice, would you ever need a back-up plan?

We have always talked the talk about emigrating, but not walked the walk. Let’s be honest, Australia is a bloody long way and Canada looks damn cold.

And our low sense of self-worth has always been a limiting factor – the rock-bottom professional self-esteem I see during appraisals, at conferences and in meetings. It’s as though as a profession we need permission to value ourselves.

It’s this characteristic that has enabled successive governments to ride roughshod over us. Despite our training, our qualifications, and our ability to manage a team, communicate in the most challenging circumstances, adapt and problem solve, we still don’t feel able to turn round and say: ‘Actually, I’m not going to play your game anymore. I’m better than this. I’m worth more (artful flick of hair like in the L’Oréal advert).’

But things have moved on from the general mutterings of discontent, to concrete planning. Whether you call it a contingency or a worst-case scenario, we all have one now, and we are talking about it.

And we are thinking outside the box. If you want to emigrate, you’re old hat. The GPs Jeremy and Theresa have pissed off are casting their nets wider. Now, we don’t care about money because things are so crappy we just need to get out. Turns out GPs can’t just do medicine, we can do anything.

Each of us has an internal monologue going on, and are constantly asking ourselves ‘what would it take for me to go?’ Some of us are holding on out of that heartfelt sense of vocation, or ‘for the patients’. More of us have kids to feed, and mortgages to pay. But we have moved from thinking that medicine is the only thing we can do, to envisaging a job that simply pays the bills and doesn’t grind us into an early grave. It isn’t worth it anymore, not now we are blamed for the entire NHS collapsing (cheers Theresa – still haven’t had your reply to my invitation to spend a day with us GPs by the way…)

Keep doing the day job. Keep the bills paid. But my advice? Make sure you have your own Plan B, because the knives are out for general practice and unless we fight back, you’re going to need it.

Dr Zoe Norris is a GP in Hull. You can follow her on Twitter @dr_zo

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Readers' comments (7)

  • Dear Zoe,
    What a brilliant piece - you have exactly caught the zeitgeist of General Practice.
    I especially liked the line..
    "Now, we don’t care about money because things are so crappy we just need to get out."
    This is so very true. At one point I was contemplating being a gardener but stayed in GP after leaving partnership and taking a 50% pay cut.
    Far happier now and I could never be enticed back to my old role. I too have kids/mortgage and this held me back but I have coped.
    To all contemplating the move - go for it. Change is scary and takes time but is worth it.

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  • I need a plan B before I end up forced to take up basket-weaving, and when my fingers begin to ache, imitating a rocking-horse who is blessed with speech;I will mutter under my breath how I hate everything and everybody..........


    I agree that we do seem to suffer some self-esteem issues as a profession when in reality we are pretty close to indispensable.Perhaps we need to adopt the approach of John Galt in 'Atlas Shrugged' by Ayn Rand and have the courage to walk away and let the inevitable decline be ushered in a little quicker.

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  • Remember the discussion I had with my headmaster / deputy aged 15 only 19 years ago! I had 2 dreams, doctor or pilot. After in depth discussion opted the former....maybe Jeremy hunt will allow me to follow my other dream :)

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  • Low self esteem

    Nothing nothing nothing is worse than hearing yourself saying out aloud "I'm a GP"

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  • I'm going to play the organ for funerals. Grateful customer. No fear of litigation - no letters to PIP buspass or housing required.

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  • I imagine historically retiring at 60 with a final salary pension probably ensured that there was no need for a Plan B, beyond a weekend retirement, pocketing the lump sum and then returning to work as a brand new sessional GP.

    Yes, there is more to life than sitting in a small room and seeing patients one after the other. If that insight requires being called a Plan B, so be it.

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  • I have retired 18 months ago and I am now setting up a cafe business with my stepdaughter, so what is being claimed is coming to pass

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