Reflections from an uneasy but hopeful GP

6 minute read

The pandemic has forced us to see the flaws in our systems – that has to be a good thing for general practice.

It’s 3am and I’m sitting in the home of an interior designer.  

It really is quite spectacular. It’s a modern build, with a Balinese feel. There are quirky but tasteful bits of furniture carefully placed around the room. Oversized and eclectic artworks are displayed on the walls and on antique wooden furniture that somehow look very comfortable in their modern setting. I’ve been flipping through carefully placed design books admiring the carefully crafted beauty and breathing in the creative energy that comes from being able to set the ambiance in a space.  

I’m relaxed and mostly happy – I’m on holiday, after all – but I can’t ignore that slight nagging regretful longing for my fabulous alternative (alt) career. You know the one … something entirely different to medicine, where you don’t have to deal with the pandemic, the frequent rule changes or the politics?  

Perhaps, if I had ever had the same passion for anything else outside of the bounds of medicine this would have been my house. That would have been nice.  

Unfortunately, my alternative career choice is but a pipe dream, the grass-is-greener, idyllic sort of thinking that one might get when on holiday. Despite this, my alt-career escapism has served me well over my career to date. It acts as a place for mental repose when I’m pulling out my hair in frustration at the latest Medicare or other system change. In my heart I know I’m a GP down to my bones, but sometimes I really wish I wanted to be something else.  

This holiday was always intended to be a little bit spectacular. An attempt to compensate for the holidays we never made it to over the past two years, courtesy of the pandemic. It was also booked to celebrate my 40th birthday, which without family could have been totally miserable. Fortunately, I’m surrounded by good people. My sister (who is UK side) had cleverly colluded with my husband to surround me with connection. Distance, as they say, is just a test to see how far love can travel.  

With the turn of a new year, a milestone birthday and a bit of time away from work, I’ve been reflecting on the pandemic. Despite the horror, I’ve decided I’m not without hope for general practice or my future within it.  

Being a not-quite-stalker-grade people watcher, I’ve been carefully observing anyone who is in a position to meaningfully change the general practice environment, perhaps with the hope that someday, I may be able to affect positive change from the things I have learnt.  

I have pulled out a few observational threads of hope, that, if woven together carefully could make the most beautiful tapestry. This is what I came up with … 

  1. The pandemic has provided a lens from which we are clearly able to see the inadequacies within our circles of influence. On an individual level, I see many of my colleagues currently taking stock of their career. At practice, college and political levels, communication structures, process and system structure have all been put under scrutiny.  
    I see the dawning realisation that the federal and state systems working in parallel are not, let’s say politely, efficient. The politics and mistrust between the two are getting in the way of effective healthcare governance. Rather than be central to cohesion between the two, GPs get caught in the middle, a little confused and quite annoyed. 
  1. General practice business is being forced to adapt or die, partly because we are having to look at sustainability, but with this comes measuring our value. One example of this is the bulk-billing debate. Personally, I think money is a crude measure of value; however, until we have a utilitarian utopian civilisation we’re going to have to suck it up and put a number on it.  
    Saying you are worth something is not wrong, and more often than not, other people judge us based on the value we place on ourselves. We are worth more than we give ourselves credit for. 
  1. We are inching closer to being a more unified, organised professional group, who, no longer siloed in our individual consulting rooms, are beginning to harness the societal, political and economic value that comes with collegiate connection, collaboration and moblisation. Deep. 
  1. Pandemic leadership and those who are fit to serve it are being elevated to visible, impactful levels, providing direction, stability, and dynamism in volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous times. This is my favorite observation.  
  1. The cost of growth and change is discomfort. I don’t know about you, but I have felt uncomfortable a lot of late. It sucks, but there it is. You can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, you just have to go through it. I’m already gritting my teeth in anticipation. 

What I conclude when I put all of this together, is that if we can endure the discomfort, here in lies a pathway for the beginning of something transformative; strong leadership, collective improved self-worth and structural change. Something for voyeurs like me to get out of bed for.  

On a personal note, I’m still not quite sure where I’m going to land professionally or personally in this changing landscape. I suspect I’ll continue to fantasise about my alt career until the day I die. What ever life has in store for me I’ve decided that if I can continue to learn and draw out the positives from the pain, no matter how hard things get, there will always be hope in the discomfort.  

Dr Kati Davies is a Canberra-based GP currently enrolled in the Future Leaders Program and Mentor Program with the RACGP, and a GP Synergy medical educator; she fellowed in 2018 and has two young children; her current hero is Brené Brown

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