04 May 2017

Why I love being #JustaRuralGP.

I am not “just a GP”. I am “just a rural GP” and I say that phrase with pride.

In May 2015, there was a blog from the Huffington Post titled “Me? I’m Just a GP”, that made the rounds of social media and did a fantastic job at highlighting the varied and life-changing role that the family doctor can, and does, have in the lives of the variety of patients that they see all day, every day.

The importance of being a GP and this catchphrase “#justaGP” began to have more prominence in September 2016 when a grassroots social media campaign challenged some perceptions about ‘low value’ consults. GPs across Australia banded together and commented on what they had done that day. And it was inspiring. For example:

  • “Delivered premature twins in country because mum wasn’t going to make it to city. I’m #justaGP but they are all safe and well”
  • “Whatever weird health question you can think of, someone has already asked their #justaGP. Something new every day is why I love my job.”
  • “Which other specialty could do emergency shifts, procedural obstetrics, medical inpatients, neonatal medicine, psych all in 1 week? #justaGP”
  • “Today I provided palliative care to an eighty year old lady who has been my patient for thirty years. I looked after her husband when he died of motor neurone disease. I delivered her granddaughter at the local hospital. I am GP to her daughter, granddaughter and great-grandchildren. Our lives woven together for more than a generation. Privileged to be #justaGP”

This campaign was so successful that the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) used a similar concept in their most recent campaign ‘I’m not just a GP. I’m your specialist in life’. I agree with the premise of this campaign; the reality that general practice is a specialty and it is the most medically challenging and emotionally rewarding specialty of all.

To better understand the varied work-life that I lead, here is a taste what I have managed in the last week:

  • The 21-year-old female who I saw almost every one to three weeks last year because she was desperate to get pregnant is now 34 weeks pregnant with her daughter. Her baby will be delivered by my colleague, a GP surgeon/ obstetrician in a few weeks and I will be there as the ‘baby doctor’ in the theatre.
  • The 19-year-old girl with her beautiful two year old daughter who finally confesses that her partner is abusive towards her and that she feels trapped. I have made weekly appointments to do my best to help and support her.
  • The 33-year-old farmer, my last patient of a busy day, who presented with some non-specific chest/arm pain with no risk factors for heart disease. I probe a little into his life, and then a bit more, and then he breaks down. He is not coping with work and stress. He doesn’t know what to do and who to talk to. After an hour of discussion, we have a structure in place deal with his problems.”
  • The 94-year-old lady who was a home visit for some discomfort in her leg. That takes about five of the 20 minutes I spend there as she is simply keen for a chat. I leave with homegrown tomatoes and cucumbers for dinner.
  • The 34-year-old A grade footballer who had his lip split open in the first game of the season by the shoulder of an opposition player. I spent an hour stitching him back together to play again the following weekend.

These stories barely scratch the surface of my everyday job and don’t even begin to cover some of what I handle when I am “on call”.

As a rural GP you are the Emergency Doctor, Physician, Intensive Care Unit Consultant, cardiology Resident Medical Officer, Intern and Administrative Officer. I have driven 30 minutes at 2:00am to manage a patient with severe subcutaneous emphysema that involved insertion of a chest drain and emergency evacuation down to Adelaide for his injuries, then seen him in our clinic three weeks later completely recovered. I have completed my netball game and then driven up to the hospital to perform X-rays and place a cast on a teammate. I have got out of bed at 6am to see the child with the fever because I needed to be reassured that they were not too unwell.

There are times when I wish that I had a straightforward “just need a repeat prescription” consultation and I often tell myself not to ask the “is there anything else” question. But I ask the question anyway. I take the time to sit with my patients and do my best to help them; this is where a lot of the joy of my job comes from.

As GPs we can make such important differences in people’s lives, and play an important role in a community as well. I am involved in educating and training medical students and interns. I work with some amazing colleagues who teach me a lot and we are always supportive of one another. I am involved in committees that advocate for rural health funding as well as specific funding for an area of social disadvantage that I work in.

I am also involved in a local tennis club and the local netball association. I see my patients in the supermarket or they make me my coffee. I have known about pregnancies before husbands have found out. I have been involved in the grief of a patient when their partner (also a patient) has passed away. I laugh with patients and I sometimes cry with them. I make a difference in people’s lives and they make a difference to me.

I am “just a rural GP” and I love every minute of it!

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