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Book review: The Art of General Practice

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In the pressured and intense atmosphere that is primary care in the UK today, it feels there is much negativity from doctors, patients and the press alike.

As GPs struggle to tick boxes and reach targets, provide access and jump through the hoops of appraisal, it is easy to forget what we loved about the job in the first place and what a privileged position we find ourselves in. This book is the perfect reminder of this.

A GP with over 30 years’ experience, author Dr David Bartlett opens in the preface by describing how much he still loves his job and views many of his patients as his friends. Such sentiments are rare these days, but his genuine warmth encourages the reader to put their cynicism to one side and read on.

The book is relatively slim, at 126 pages, so does not feel too daunting, and has useful questions at the end of each concise chapter to encourage reflection and develop further discussion in study groups or at appraisal.

A well-timed reminder of why we do the job we do and how to do it effectively

In the first part of the book each chapter focuses on a different aspect of the consultation such as ‘Greetings’, ‘One consultation, one problem’, ‘Don’t say that’ and ‘Silence and small talk’. The text is peppered with anecdotes from Dr Bartlett’s many years of practice, showing a genuine fondness for his work and his patients. The topics are at times challenging and re-examine many perceptions about patient behavior and how these affect the running of a clinic.

In the second half, the book talks about ‘Looking after number one’, and gives realistic solutions to dealing with caring for yourself, encouraging the reader to remain curious, develop a support network, cultivate non-medical interests, keep self-aware and manage time.

The final chapter contains a wealth of references to apps, websites and texts to help doctor and patient. The advice is warm, sensible and frequently uplifting.

‘The Art of General Practice’ is a type of self-help book, but unlike those weighty tomes that can be hard to relate to, it is a pleasure to read and well referenced so that it feels you are getting the best summary of a number of other texts as you read. There are stories of personal enlightenment and sorrow and several wonderful poems, most notably ‘Names’ by Wendy Cope.

At times nostalgic, but frequently emotional and so positive, this book is an easy-access antidote to the calls for ‘resilience’ and the anti-patient rhetoric that seems to appear all too commonly on social media, and is a well-timed reminder of why we do the job we do and how to do it effectively.

Dr Nicky Shiell is a GP partner in Northumbria

The Art of General Practice; Soft Skills to Survive and Thrive by David Bartlett is published by Scion