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Welcome aboard this flight to general practice

I sat down and a voice came through the loudspeakers.

‘Welcome aboard Flight 2014, now departing from Foundation Years, and arriving at general practice in approximately three years,’ the lilting voice said as I fastened my seatbelt.

Tucked into the seat in front of me was a laminated sheet headed ‘Exit routes from career, read in case of emergency’. But no one reads the safety instructions.

There was also a paper bag. I pulled it out. It read: ‘To be used at times of extreme stress. Keep handy in the

24 hours before clinical skills assessment, or whenever anyone starts to discuss the eportfolio.’

I gulped as the disembodied voice continued. ‘Please remain seated in the VTS teaching when the “lecture in progress” light is on.’

I couldn’t really concentrate on what she was saying. I had a feeling this was going to be a long journey, perhaps with some turbulence and long periods of extreme boredom. I hoped my fellow passengers were going to be interesting to talk to and not just lecture me about the places they had just been.

I glanced to my right. A nervous-looking woman with a pregnancy bump had already claimed the armrest between us.

Never mind, I have bony elbows anyway, I thought as I gave her a thin smile.

‘Should your career stall at the examination or exasperation stage, the emergency exits of staff-grade medicine, drug company work, medical journalism (good luck with that one) and declaring bankruptcy can be found here, here, here and here,’ waffled the voice while the air hostess at the front of the plane waved her hands around.

‘In the event of a life crisis and work-related stress, leisure time will be dangled in front of you. We suggest that you grasp this firmly and apply it to yourself before seeing to those around you. Thank you for listening. Enjoy your journey.’

Then a distorted, gruff voice crackled into life through the speakers: ‘This is your captain speaking. I’ll be directing your journey for the next couple of years until I hand over to someone else. We’ll be taking off shortly, and will reach our destination in three years, though some of you will be leaving us at Lake Maternity.

‘Would less-than-full-time trainees please leave and join the more sedate propeller-powered career waiting for you at Gate 7. Your cabin crew will serve you tutorials and lectures every Thursday afternoon. In the unlikely (cough) event of the complete privatisation of the NHS, please put on your life jacket and assume the brace position. Those of you who plan to transit straight to Australia on arrival can make their way to First Class.’

Dr Samir Dawlatly is a former secretary of the RCGP’s adolescent health group and a GP in Birmingham