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Never off duty

Never off duty

Columnist Dr Zoe Rog on the unsolicited medical queries that invade her life outside the surgery

My family recently lamented that I seem to spend a lot of my off-duty time being an unofficial GP. Even when I manage to log off from my work laptop, medical queries still seem to infiltrate the rest of my life. The GMC discourages us from giving medical advice to friends and family, and in principle I entirely agree, but it often isn’t so simple when people are determined.

A few weeks ago, I took my daughter to have a manicure for a special event and so we could spend some time together. She was quite taken aback when the therapist providing my treatment waited until she had my hands trapped in a bowl of water and took the opportunity to ask me about a list of medical problems that she apparently didn’t want to bother her own GP with because ‘they’re busy’.

Unfortunately, things like this happen all too often. I once almost had to physically restrain another mum from stripping her youngest child naked in the school car park, as she was so desperate to show me their nappy rash. And when I foolishly agreed to run my children’s primary school Christmas fair and was literally knee-deep in the teddy tombola – at the same time as squeezing my friend’s husband into her elf costume, as she was absent due to one too many drinks – the head teacher conspiratorially came to tell me that the defibrillator was in his office should I need it. I made a mental note to recruit a PTA A&E triage nurse for future school fairs to head off anyone at the door who was looking a bit peaky.

But even when I’m at home, I can’t seem to escape the medical queries. Unsolicited pictures of lumps, rashes and moles appear in my WhatsApp like a macabre quiz, and I find it particularly perplexing that people seem to like to test me by sending these pictures without any kind of history relating to the problem. I usually send links to NICE guidance and helpful webpages.

Now, I try to avoid telling people what I do for a living. I once went on holiday with a friend on the understanding we wouldn’t tell anyone we met about my job. Within three days, a lady in our hotel had spent two hours telling me about her experience of cancer treatment. According to my exasperated friend, I might as well tattoo my profession on to my forehead.

Recently we ordered a new front door for our house, and the workman who came to replace it asked me what I did for a living. I braced myself waiting for his list of medical problems but instead he told me that when he was growing up, his parents never took him to the GP. Instead, they called Madge from across the road if they had a medical query. He recalled sitting in the bath one day when Madge was summoned, complete with a cigarette hanging out of the corner of her mouth. She surveyed his anatomy, reassured him she had seen it all before, and pronounced it ‘nowt to worry about’.

On reflection, I regret that we don’t have enough Madges in society any more. Instead, people are encouraged by others to get things checked urgently by a GP, because of course you can’t be too careful.

And of course, if you happen to know a GP, it would be much better to ask them unofficially, because GPs are busy but their free time is just that – free to the most insistent.

Dr Zoe Rog is a GP in Runcorn, Cheshire



Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

David Taylor 4 August, 2023 4:29 pm

I think the first mistake you make is replying to any messages from others as word will clearly get around that you will help. I rarely get messages from people asking for advice because people know that I am likely to say ‘you should probably see your GP/nurse/social prescriber/counsellor/physio about it.’ It’s vitally important to protect ourselves and actually say no – at the end of the day peoples health is their responsibility and our concern not the other way around.

David jenkins 4 August, 2023 7:26 pm

when they ask what i do on holiday, i tell them “i sit in front of a computer most of the time punching garbage into a computer”

instant turn off for most……….no more questions !

and mostly true !

Dylan Summers 5 August, 2023 10:09 am

I don’t get many queries like this. I suspect I may not be considered sufficiently approachable (which is fine by me!). So ones own body language and communication style may be relevant.

I may be wrong but I think gender (IE sexism) may be relevant too. Perhaps some people feel that women are “there to help”, but that men are “too important to bother”.

Some Bloke 5 August, 2023 10:56 am

My standard response is, here’s the number for my surgery. Call reception on Monday and make an appointment.
And if potential client continues to insist, I inform them of my private fees and ask how they would like to pay.
You don’t expect a plumber you’ve just met on kids playground to change your radiator for free, or maybe you do, but I don’t. Why should my skill, outside work, be valued at zero cost?

The Prime Minister 5 August, 2023 11:11 am

I have never told anyone that I am a GP or before that doctor unless cornered……it is on a need to know basis and I am about as likely to tell them as I would if I worked for MI5.

My wife has witnessed me on holiday steering the conversation away so I am asked what job I do and miraculously we are onto another subject. Even after a drink I have learnt to out manoeuvre all such unsolicited questions and it has served me well over many years. NEVER OFFER THIS INFORMATION UP UNLESS THE WATERBOARDING GETS TOO MUCH….