Are you thinking of becoming a GP? You may be wondering, ‘what makes a good GP?’. Working as a GP is an extremely fulfilling job, but it’s not for everyone. Obviously, no doctor is perfect, but there are certain skills and personality traits which make it more suitable for certain people. Here are some of the most important skills that make a good GP, written by Dr Jessica Howitt.
Most of your time is spent consulting with patients, so good communication skills are essential. Your patients will place their trust in you, often discussing personal issues they’ve not spoken to anyone else about. It’s so important to be able to build a rapport with your patients, enabling them to feel comfortable enough to do this. It’s also important to adapt your communication skills to suit each patient; the way you consult with a teenager may be very different to the way you consult with an elderly patient! You’ll spend a lot of time both at medical school and during post-graduate training learning good communication skills, but being a good communicator comes more naturally to some.
You’ll meet a diverse range of patients, many of whom you’d never meet in your everyday life. You’ll encounter people from all cultures, religions and socio-economic backgrounds, so it’s imperative that you’re able to remain open minded and non-judgemental to give the best possible care.
There are a lot of unknowns in General Practice in comparison with other specialties. Literally anything can walk through the door, and you’re expected to work out what’s going on! It’s not always possible to come up with a definitive diagnosis for a patient and this is something that you need be comfortable with. Some doctors find it either very stressful or very unsatisfying to admit they’re not sure what’s going on. If you’re a GP, you’ll face this problem daily, so you need to be comfortable dealing with uncertainty.
In hospital specialities, you often work with a team of doctors to provide patient care. In General Practice, doctors generally work independently of each other, only discussing patients that are particularly challenging. This can feel stressful as you’re entirely responsible for the decisions you make. It can also be quite lonely, as you spend long periods of time by yourself. Practices will vary, with some having a much stronger team ethos than others, so it’s important to find the right job for you.
As a GP, you’re truly a generalist and need to know a little about everything. Medicine is constantly evolving which means that you need to work hard to stay up to date. This requires a lot of dedication; attending regular courses, reading journals and constantly reviewing new guidelines. Most of this will be self-directed learning, undertaken in your own time. It’s important to have an ongoing desire to learn, and the ability to adapt your practice accordingly.
These are just some of the skills required to be a good GP. The best way to find out whether it’s the right job for you is by experiencing it for yourself! If you think you want to be a GP, try and organise some work experience in a local practice, or talk to a GP about their experiences. Once you apply to university, it’s worth researching which medical schools put an emphasis on GP placements, as some will offer a lot more exposure to General Practice than others.
Words: Dr Jessica Howitt
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