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GP17: a student perspective
by Albert Wu

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend the national Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) conference, GP17, at the ICC in Sydney. I am very grateful to GPEx, the GP training organisation in SA, for very kindly and generously sponsoring my experience. The conference was educational, provided ample opportunities for networking and provided an understanding of the issues faced by GPs and the RACGP.

The keynote speakers from varied backgrounds provided fresh new views on how to approach health care. Paediatrician-turned-entrepreneur, Dr Jay Parkinson, presented his successful app Sherpaa, which allows patients in the United States to access health care by sending a text message to a doctor. I discussed the model with others after the talk and it was felt that there were barriers to immediately implementing such a system in Australia which has a vastly different healthcare system to the US. Nevertheless, the talk was eye-opening, and I certainly have no doubt that the way health care will be delivered in the future will change rapidly.

Scottish Consultant Surgeon-turned-Chief Medical Officer, Sir Harry Burns, spoke about the determinants of ‘wellness’ (e.g. employment, the sense that one had a purpose in life, strong sense of community and one’s place within it). He put forward the notion that reducing burden of illness is not as simple as reducing cardiovascular risk factors; rather, developing nurturing relationships is key to better physical and mental health. His points were compelling and the audience appreciated his humour and passion for the subject. He urged the audience to go ahead and just implement their strategies to improve health on the front line, rather than waiting for politicians’ support which may or may not occur.

A traditional analogy of health care imagines that patients fall into a river of ‘illness’ and the health care system pulls them out. Primary prevention, then, looks upstream and aims to prevent people from falling into the river. Sir Burns proposed a modified analogy that resonated with me. He suggested that we are all constantly in the river and that there are two sides of the river: a sunny side and a hazardous one. When we see someone drifting to the wrong side, we should aim to support them in finding their way back. I see GPs as ideally placed to strive to achieve this through their intimate understanding of what makes their patients ‘tick’, the trusting lasting relationships formed and their interest in the whole person.

I found the session on the application process into GP training useful. I would encourage anyone interested in GP training to familiarise themselves with the selection process via the AGPT website or by speaking to the friendly reps from GPEx who have been actively supporting various medical student events.

The conference gave me a stronger appreciation of the diversity of GP research. Presentations I found particularly interesting were the utility of a mobile GP clinic for homeless patients, and the process and challenges of setting up and maintaining a program for secondary prevention of acute rheumatic fever in Indigenous patients on Thursday Island. What a delight it was to bump into fellow medical student Alisha Thompson at the conference! She presented about Australians’ inaccurate perception of decline in infertility and the potential utility of infertility screen – presented twice by popular demand!

There was a presentation about an app Daybreak, which helps patients reduce alcohol consumption. A few GPs in the audience had extensive experience in recommending the app to patients and engaged in meaningful discussion with the app creators and fellow GPs. Certainly, the new tools available to provide health care are expanding and should not be overlooked.

During the conference, I developed a stronger awareness of the College’s role in advocacy and close working relationship with its members to find out and address the issues that matter to them. The College’s ‘Your Specialist in Life’ campaign has been very effective in increasing awareness of the value of GPs, and has supported political advocacy. There were presentations from the Health Minister Greg Hunt, Shadow Health Minister Catherine King, and Leader of Greens Richard Di Natale. Items of note included up-scheduling of codeine, GP colleges back in charge of GP training, and the inadequacies of the Health Care Homes trial, among many others. I was familiar with many of the issues at the state level but was fascinated to see how issues were escalated to the national level for discussions and policy change.

I was pleasantly surprised to bump into quite a few people I knew from Adelaide including GPs, GP registrars, interns and fellow med students. I also met people from various backgrounds in various stages of their career and enjoyed engaging in discussion over food during breaks. The Networking event at L’Aqua, Cockle Bay Wharf was a highlight. The stories I heard reminded me of how diverse general practice can be: the procedural work, anaesthetics, obstetrics, ED work, travel. The flexibility of general practice and the opportunity to shape one’s career is really unparalleled. Listening to others’ passion for their career was inspirational. In my spare time, I spent time with childhood friends, high school friends and fellow med students, exploring the CBD on a Reddy Go bike, past the UTS ‘ugly brown tower’, through Spice Alley and around Darling Harbour, a trip into the suburbs for food and going for a wander to The Rocks.

I am very grateful to GPEx for sponsoring this wonderful experience, leaving me nothing short of thoroughly inspired! I am only a little sad that it had to come to an end.

Albert Wu with GPEx Medical Educator, Assoc Prof Jill Benson AM

Albert Wu with RACGP President, Dr Bastian Seidel

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