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Despite everything, general practice is still the best job in the world

I’ve been puzzling of late. You see, I’m no hopeless optimist, I like to just get on with things. Give me half a glass of water and I’m more likely to drink it than worry about how full or empty it is. So why in these times of crisis – this #GPstateofemergency – do I feel so able to recommend a career in general practice to those considering it? Particularly when, in my work outside the practice and when talking to GP friends or engaging with social media, I come across so many who clearly don’t feel the same way.

I truly believe that people should be climbing over each other to have my job

I do recognise their pain. I write this just after our CQC inspection, having lost countless hours over the past weeks of patient and family time to preparation. Like everyone else, I feel the burden of creeping demand and a system that pushes more and more work my way without resource. I’m increasingly scared of litigation or GMC proceedings, and as I seek to protect myself, I find this fear starting to alter my practice. I’m tired of endless top-down reorganisations and a need constantly and pointlessly to engage with change and go to meetings, rather than directly care for patients. And the damaging media onslaught of the past 10 years has left me less valued as a person in the eyes of my patients, friends and family.

With all the negatives, it’s hard for many to understand how anyone could recommend general practice right now. However, despite everything, I truly believe that people should be climbing over each other to have my job. There are many reasons for this. It’s not just because of what I have previously referred to as ‘the honour and the privilege’ of being a GP, though it surely is both those things. It’s not just because of the comfortable lifestyle that a potential six-figure salary affords. But it’s also the respect which, though diminishing, our patients clearly feel for us. It’s the unrivalled flexibility of general practice which is still, I believe, the most family-friendly medical specialty. I don’t believe I will ever have to work at the weekend unless I choose to. It’s the wonderfully great difficulty of doing general practice well, which is challenging and rewarding in equal measure.

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I really do have the best job in the world. Every day is different, presenting me with challenges and opportunities. GPs build strong ties with our patients and their family groups. As our careers progress we share in our patients’ highs and lows, the births, the deaths, trying to support them as best we can medically or psychologically. We often are there just to listen, a trusted confidant, which at times can be just as important as writing a prescription or making a referral.

That’s why I’ve involved myself with the RCGP and work in Health Education England to support the workforce and train our GPs of the future.

And there is hope for the future. While the GP Forward View leaves as many questions as it answers, there is no doubt that we are about to see significant investment in primary care. Exactly how that translates on the ground is in the hands of our elected representatives of the BMA and RCGP. But I am hopeful. I think we have to be. The fight – securing a future for general practice – isn’t going to be easy. There are many obstacles; it is a desperate challenge. But what I can say is that it will be worth it.

Dr Dom Patterson is a GP in Yorkshire, RCGP council member, deputy director for postgraduate GP education at HEE Yorkshire and the Humber and the instigator of the #whyGP campaign