A GP, or General Practitioner, is a specialist medical practitioner who plays a unique and central role in the health system. Like all specialists, GPs undergo significant training in medicine, followed by two years of post-graduate hospital training and then three years of supervised general practice training to become fellows of the RACGP (Royal Australian College of General Practice).
You may have seen in the media that fewer medical graduates are choosing to become GP’s. Before 1992 doctors could finish medical school, put a sign out the front and practice as a GP. Or doctors who could not finish other medical specialities would work as a GP. For over three decades now General Practice has been its own specialty, with specific training requirements and entrance and exit exams.
This advanced training places them in a unique position to have an in depth understanding and appreciation of the whole patient including aspects of physical, psychological, environmental, social, and cultural factors of health and wellbeing that can impact a persons health and wellbeing across their lifespan.
Choosing to become a GP is an active choice that medical graduates must make – which is great because everyone benefits if only people passionate about primary care work in it.
So, what does a GP do?
Many doctors and patient’s think General Practice is boring because it is all coughs and colds. In reality GP is anything but! One of the great things of general practice is seeing the whole family and treating the whole person – physical, social and psychological. Everything is interconnected.
When it comes to health, GPs are typically the first point of contact you may have within the healthcare system. As part of this, GPs provide advice and support to help you understand the system and your options available to help you make an informed decision about your health care.
When you come to the GP you bring your story of what YOU have been experiencing. It is then our job to ask further questions; to rule out any immediately life threatening conditions, consider rare conditions or determine if it may be a common condition. This all needs to be done in one appointment.
You may have experienced symptoms worsening after you have been to the doctor. This can make the diagnosis obvious, and a big aspect of general practice is follow up – of new conditions and chronic. Like shingles – patients can have lots of nerve pain in one area for several days but until the rash appears it isn’t obviously shingles.
Sometimes the cause may not be obvious when the symptoms first start, which is why it is important to return if you aren’t improving or something doesn’t feel right. Having one or two GP’s who know you and your health history also makes a big difference. Evidence suggests this extends your life span.
Did you know that a GP does a lot when they aren’t seeing patients? A recent study found that on average, a GP will spend 14.2% or 5.1 hours a week doing administration, following up investigation results and specialist letters, writing referrals and reports, arranging urgent referrals and collaborating with various specialists to make an action plan to help a patient who they will see later that day.
With the advances in technology and use of antibiotics, antivirals and vaccination you are likely to live longer, but also have more chronic conditions. A chronic condition is anything that lasts more than 3 months. General Practice is the only specialty that manages every condition concurrently in consultation with non-GP specialists as needed. You may find that you need longer appointments as a result, but also that if you manage these conditions with regular checkups you are less likely to go to hospital. Engaging with our chronic disease management program where you work with your doctor and practice nurse to achieve your health goals can really help.
Having a regular GP is important. If you know someone who doesn’t have a regular GP who cares for them, please encourage them to find someone as the benefits to their wellbeing are enormous.