I won the lottery! Being a doctor is one of the best ways to live a life and General Practice is the best way of being a doctor. This may sound flippant but I feel both proud and fortunate to be a family doctor; in fact it’s been the making of me and without the challenges that becoming an expert GP presents, I wouldn’t have grown as a doctor and as a person in the way that I have. Let me explain by sharing three aspects of my life as a GP.
Firstly, I have learned to be wary of certainty. I’m privileged to be trusted by my community, and patients bring me the problems and issues that worry them.
These problems, especially the significant ones, rarely have simple answers and I have to learn to manage the uncertainty until a way forward has been clarified. I work with probabilities rather than definites as a result of which:
my expertise begins where the algorithms end
That takes real skill, great judgment and a steady nerve as well as the relationship skills to share without scaring and support without taking over.
The better I’ve become at managing the uncertainty of problems, the less I’ve been frightened by the complexity and diversity of people and the more I’ve tried to understand them rather than just ‘assess’ them.
This leads me to the second aspect, which is that I have learned to see ‘status’ as a barrier rather than an entitlement.
If we really want to help our fellow human beings at their times of suffering, we need to connect with them.
That can’t happen to the degree that generates trust, if we feel in our hearts that we are different (especially, better) than them. We learn to impose our superiority and to feel entitled to do so. We even learn to justify it, for example we say it gives patients confidence in us. But the reality, well my reality, is that when we admit in our hearts that the differences between us are an accident of opportunity rather than a reflection of superiority, we free ourselves to experience empathy and understanding at a much more profound level. And that’s not only good for our relationships, it’s great for problem-solving and risk management too.
The third aspect of being a GP leads on from the second, and is the experience of fulfilment through connection. Learning to connect with people as individuals encourages us to use those skills to connect with communities of all sorts. These might be communities defined by geography or socioeconomic circumstance, but they might equally be communities of thought or belief. Learning to connect leads to learning to respect diversity and the great value of looking at the problems and issues of life from a variety of perspectives, including ones we find difficult or don’t sympathise with. This has made me curious but it has also made me more tolerant.
The feeling of being connected with people, understanding their complexity, respecting our equality and our differences and giving something that they value has been the recipe for a deeply fulfilling life.
General Practice gave me that, and I will find it so hard to walk away from it.
It can give you that too.