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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Why I'm

quitting

general

practice

Dr Sheila Montgomery needed counselling before deciding to leave her happy and successful partnership after 15 years ­ she explains why she made the move

Well, that's it, I have only weeks to go before leaving my supportive partnership after 15 years.

Leave the partnership before retirement? That seems a bit rash. What came over me?

Like many significant life changes the reasons behind the decision are multi-factorial and it was the multitude of events coming together that made this feel right for me now. It feels scary, exciting, insecure, challenging, but it never feels dull. I intend to do locum work, of course, but I also have set up something completely different.

I formed a small limited company in November with my partner, called Care Free Cycling Tours. We are going to run a cycling holiday company in the south-west of England and in Italy. Setting this up has been such a different experience from anything I've done previously. It is a steep learning curve, a real rollercoaster of a ride.

As the moment of leaving approaches I have been reflecting on the circumstances that made this feel less like an outbreak of mid-life craziness and more like taking charge of my own direction.

Ruthless about timekeeping

I am in my early 50s, I have worked as a full-time partner for 15 years. I enjoyed the work and got a lot out of it. I have found it a disciplined and responsible life but it had variety and a sense of autonomy. I learned something new about life, if not medicine, most days. I have three children, and during the last seven years I have been a single parent. The juggling game between home and work was frankly quite tough, I really had to sharpen up my work/home boundaries.

I streamlined my domestic routines, I became good at speed shopping, and ruthless about my timekeeping ­ there was lots to fit in!

I did try to make some time for me as

well ­ sanity was a valued commodity. It did really help having what I regard as a decent income.

But the things that mattered to me, my drivers, changed with the passage of time.

At work I was experiencing a creeping sense of loss of autonomy. The new contract changed our practice meetings. We talked of Read codes, targets, advanced access booking appointments, Choose and Book. The patients were the same, but I felt I was providing a less personal service to them.

On the domestic front, my children grew, the eldest two left home and became miraculously independent. I turned 50. What was ahead?

I spent some time thinking through a re-evaluation of what was important to me. I did some counselling, which I found extremely helpful. It was difficult to be on the receiving end of counselling; I found it uncomfortable and felt vulnerable. I did persist, however, and I am glad I did, it was a real personal investment.

When the opportunity for change came I recognised what I wanted and took my chance, along with the attendant risks. I wanted less responsibility, more fun. I had had enough of the high-income, high-stress, no-time, super-busy life. I also really fancied doing something completely different before it was too late.

I was very fortunate in meeting my partner who shared these dreams just at the point in my life when it became feasible to make a radical change. Luck, fortune, fate, call the circumstances whatever you like, I did know I really wanted to take this opportunity and that I would forever regret it if I did not give it my best shot.

No bad feelings

First I talked it through with my children, who were very supportive. Then I had to break it to my partners. I talked to them together and explained my personal reasons. They were shocked and surprised, the partnership is a stable and happy one and they had expected me to continue working with them until I retired. My partners are both friends and colleagues and it was important to me that we remained on good terms.

We have a clear practice agreement and there have been no problems about the process. I have mixed emotions as I approach the leaving date, but I am pleased there is no bad feeling within the partnership.

When I first thought about the whole process of leaving and starting up a business, I felt overwhelmed by the practicalities. In fact these have generally speaking just fallen into place. Practical problems have practical solutions and none of it is rocket science.

The trick is feeling sure of your direction. Once the first big step of resigning was taken, the rest followed. I know there are lots of risks, but you really do get only one life. I think I am really lucky, and I am going to have a real crack at making this work.

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