For all our gripes, there is hope for the future

4 minute read

Now is the time to remember the joys of general practice and encourage our bright young things.

And so this is Christmas …

We are once again at the end of the year – once again I am writing a final editorial before the Christmas break.

As we stagger over the finish line of 2022, I for one feel more a sense of relief at having survived the year rather than any real feeling of satisfaction.

Or at least that’s what I thought I felt.

The last few months seem to have particularly difficult for our profession and our specialty. The imminent and onerous changes to CPD, the Medicare rorts debacle, the stagnation of rebates in the midst of rising inflation costs (which effectively means we are going backwards financially) and then this latest initiative to allow pharmacists to prescribe – it’s not exactly the type of environment to make you full of warm and fuzzy Christmas joy, is it?

But before accepting my new role as the Christmas Grinch, a recent consultation with one of my younger patients made me realise I’m not as negative as I feared I had become.

The younger patient was a 22-year-old man, whom I see rarely (as with most 22-year-olds) who had come in for something relatively minor. In the course of our conversation, in fact within the first few minutes, he told me he had just been accepted into university to study medicine. His excitement was palpable … and contagious.

Far from feeling a sense of pessimism and attempting to dissuade him from his career choice, I was reminded that despite everything, being a doctor is a great job. More than anything else, we can really help people. We never have to ask ourselves whether what we are doing is worthwhile – we know it is.

Sure, sure – I will admit I was tempted to suggest to my young patient he not choose general practice as a specialty. But I didn’t (promise). I didn’t say anything against general practice and not only because I didn’t want to seem a miseryguts and spoil the moment but also because I don’t really believe it.

In that moment I realised, as hard as it is sometimes (or often, really), and as frustrating as it can be, general practice is a pretty good job. We are never bored, and over the years I’ve found that even on my worst days there will always by someone or something that has been interesting, enjoyable or professionally satisfying. We get to make a difference. All in all, the job is something to aspire to – it’s just all the other regulation, bureaucracy and interference that grinds me down.

And who knows? By the time my young patient does all his training and, if he chooses, jumps through the interminable hoops to become a GP maybe things will have changed again. Maybe governments will come to their senses and do something about supporting general practice, rather than just pay lip service to how valuable our contribution to the health system is (whoops – my inner Grinch is resurfacing). You think that’s impossible but stranger things have happened (Donald Trump running for president again just as one example).

Anyway, the upshot of this recent encounter was a reminder of what drew me to medicine in the first place. I quite genuinely congratulated my patient and, in a way, welcomed him to the club.

I found myself envying his enthusiasm.

As part of my end-of-year reflection I realise I have to replace that feeling of just surviving and restore that sense of job satisfaction. The frustrations of the job are unlikely to be resolved any time soon (still can’t find an affordable psychiatrist who will see my 50-year old, possibly bipolar patient within four months!) but my perspective can change.

Forget Margaret Faux and co. To young, bright intelligent career-choosers we do a job to be envied. To our patients we are valued. In our hearts we know we provide a worthwhile and high-quality service.

And so bring on Christmas.

Wherever you are and however you celebrate these holidays I hope you get a chance to relax and recharge, and maybe – like me – a chance to restore your sense of enthusiasm (if you were feeling similarly jaded). Take care and see you next year.

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