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My new year reflection - being a GP is actually a rewarding job

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Working through the last week before Christmas, I became increasingly frustrated at the stream of patients with self limiting illnesses who 'didn't want to be sick for Christmas' (who would?), 'wanted a check as we would be closed for four days' or thought they should have some antibiotics 'just in case it goes to my chest'. And whilst I try and educate patients and signpost to appropriate services, namely Boots, it does sometimes destroy the soul.

Moments like this make all the other soul-destroying moments fade into oblivion

And destroy my soul it would have were it not for two very different and yet ultimately similar patient encounters dotted into the endless list of common colds.

The first, a woman I first met six weeks ago, with the worst contact dermatitis I have ever seen, primarily to her face and on just about every treatment possible at top doses. I have done little more than listen, advise, tweak meds and listen more. At one point I got advice from a dermatologist friend and called her to discuss. Otherwise, I have listened. She came to see me last week for nothing else than to tell me that she had been close to killing herself when we first met and now she feels that she has someone who understands the stigma of a face that others stare at, someone she can talk to and be honest about how she feels without meeting scorn. For this she had bought me a Christmas present.

The other was a 42-year-old undergoing private IVF seeing me for medication. I noticed that she had had six miscarriages over the last four years. She had never been referred to the recurrent miscarriage team and in North London we have an excellent unit at St Mary's. I offered a referral which she accepted. I then saw her twice more to sort medication. We chatted (it's a practice where I get 15-minute appointments making this easier), we laughed and just once she cried. I told her of my friend who miscarried constantly until she went to St Mary's and carried a pregnancy to term aged 49 (naturally). There is always hope however slim, and she knows it is slim, but it isn't nothing. At our appointment this week she stopped at the door to say that she had been at the practice for years and the doctors were excellent but had often made her feel wrong for pursuing pregnancy as a single woman and at her age. She thanked me for giving her hope and making her feel normal.

It may only have been two patients in hundreds but it crystallised for me why I am a GP, a doctor. It's for moments like this, and they make all the other soul-destroying moments fade into oblivion and become unimportant. They remind one of the importance of the job, the effect we can have on people's emotions and wellbeing even when we are not doing much to 'cure'. There can't be another job that has the same impact, can there?

So my reflection after bringing 2016 to a close and starting 2017 is simple. Being a GP is a tough, tiring, stressful job but it also unique, rewarding and a privilege that surely cannot be found in any other job. In those dark moments across the days/weeks/months when you feel overwhelmed, close the door, sit back and recall those patients like my two (we all have them) and take pride in the important work you do. I do. 

Dr Renee Hoenderkamp is a first-year qualified GP in north London. You can follow her on Twitter @DrHoenderkamp

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Readers' comments (8)

  • Not a privilege. Just a Job. Almost all patients don't give two hoots about their doctors.

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  • I agree, wonderful job and some people actually appreciate it. But you are young, till when you get the unjustified complaints, till when you have no rest.
    I just would not be a GP if I could have known.

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  • Maybe I should seek the help that I need for my psychological issues but when reading the penultimate paragraph in the article above and the question of equivalent roles, I immediately thought of a dog. Whilst the canine is not contractually obliged to fulfil a defined role it does indeed improve the emotions and wellbeing of its owner.In addition, the dog too would continue to exhibit gratitude for a little attention even if it had been mistreated repeatedly.

    The rose-tinted spectacles afforded by 15 minute appointments and the fresh-faced optimism of youth will, I suspect, become smeared in time and a reduced consultation time of 10 minutes.

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  • A virtual nobody

    About 1/3 of my 20 patient morning list is routinely made up of 5 minute 'emergency' slots, the rest are supposed to be 10 mins each. I am certainly helping people but at considerable personal emotional cost - I'm afraid I'm often left feeling like I'm being parasitised and used. Occasionally I get a warm glow that I might have made a difference but most of the time I feel like my sole is slowly being comsumed by a tsunami of folk who really couldn't give two hoots about me so long as the get what they feel they are entitled to. Maybe if I saw less people and had more time for each I'd be able to retain some mojo ...but there apparently isn't enough money avaliable for that, it's cheaper and easier to run the NHS on the emotional credit of its staff and save the tax paying customers the bother of actually paying full price for what they are apparently 'entitled to'

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  • Sorry to put a dampener on your positive spirit, but I give you 5 years, tops.

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  • The trouble is that the cases you mention cannot be measured and are , therefore, deemed to be of no value by NHSE, DH, GMC and CQC. They are clearly , of great value to the patients, but they don't count in the eyes of NHSE etc. I mean, you're not even following a protocol, so the CQC won't be impressed.,

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  • Cobblers

    15 minute appointments? Locum or salaried then.

    Try being a partner in a struggling practice.

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  • Try seeing 23 patients in morning, 15 in afternoon... and squeeze in 4 home visits, 50 docman, 50 blood results, 50 prescription queries and 10 phone calls daily for just a month and then have a rethink.

    P.S. Do not leave a practice that offers 15 min appointments!

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