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At the heart of general practice since 1960

The little things keep me sane

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I was reminded of why I do this job last week. It wasn’t because of a Holby City moment of drama, or a House-style diagnosis of a rare condition. It was because I laughed with a patient.

And that is #whyGP

We are great at complaining as GPs. God knows we have plenty to complain about. But the problem comes when the great and the good tune out because they only hear problems, not solutions.

There have been various attempts to reverse the tide of negativity. The one I found most interesting surfaced on Twitter and has been dubbed #whyGP. It involves GPs and trainees saying why they have chosen general practice. The #whyGP team pops up at every big GP gathering to take photos of people holding a board displaying their own answer. Credit to them for being positive. But I wasn’t able to find a single reason there that resonated with my experience of being a GP. So here are mine:

1. Patients make me laugh. Not at them, with them. There is that special subgroup who I genuinely like and who don’t take life too seriously. If the NHS went private tomorrow, I would fill my day with these amazing people. The witty 80-year-old who makes rude jokes. The couple who tell me Morecambe and Wise gags. The teenager who finds it funny when I swear at my computer.

2. I’m not looked down on for working part time. In hospital medicine, the female doctors who went part time were viewed as lesser professionals. Heaven forbid if you were a man who went part time. That might be changing now, but in general practice it is accepted that working less than full time doesn’t make you less of a doctor.

3. Making a difference. Now, don’t gag. I haven’t just put on a chunky knit cardigan and started playing folk music. I love that I can reassure a worried person and send them off happy. It makes me feel wanted. It makes me feel a bit clever. It makes me feel that if I hadn’t been there, they might have carried on worrying over something I could help with. It isn’t always the glamorous stuff. I’ll happily sort constipation or thrush, and often those patients are the most relieved.

4. Being a jack of all trades. This hits home when I talk to hospital colleagues. I have no idea about the intricacies of their specialty, or the latest surgical technique they have mastered. But I know something about everything. It might not be much and I may need to Google it. But damn it, I know loads. And sometimes I think we forget that. We are awesome.

5. People skills. To some extent, these are inherent. You’re either good with people or you aren’t. But the exposure GPs get to patients, colleagues and consultation skills gives us a unique glimpse into what makes people tick. And it’s not only useful in consultations. Need to deal with an officious mum at the school gates? Try the ‘head tilt and nod’. Need to complain to a stroppy shop assistant? Try the ‘calm but firm’, with optional hand gestures. Need to defuse a toddler tantrum? Use the ‘talking down a complaining patient’ strategy. See? Multi-purpose transferable skills.

And that is #whyGP.

Dr Zoe Norris is a GP in Hull

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Readers' comments (5)

  • Great article Zoe. You always get the grassroots perspective and say what many of us feel. Nail on the head about the patients that laugh with us.

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  • Absolutely ... we need to keep fighting off the wave of negativity and lets not forget that General Practice is truly awesome :)

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  • Twice this week I have laughed out loud with patients. It really does make the job more enjoyable 8)

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  • Peter Swinyard

    After 31 years at the coalface of West Swindon, I still love the contact with (most) patients. When I pull a gag like calling "Lord and Lady Bloggs" instead of "Mr & Mrs" as i did yesterday, having two patients coming in giggling was worth it. When an elderly patient tells me a filthy joke, that enhances the quality of life. When I just support a feckless family and see them learning to flourish - that also makes life good for me.

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  • Good on ya' Zoe !
    We are indeed let into so many people"s lives.
    and because of that we are often in positions to make a difference.
    That is what I am holding onto right now and in the midst of so much negativity it is what keeps me sane.

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