The journey into general practice
Why Dr Bree Wright decided to become a GP
WHEN deciding to make the switch from a ten-year career in nursing to studying medicine, Dr Bree Wright thought that having kids was off the cards.
“Then,” Bree says, “I met someone who was a single dad of three kids and I thought 'This is great, I’ve got the kids, I’ve got the medicine…this is all happening'.”
Then, Bree fell pregnant not once, but twice—a manageable family of five became a large family of seven—all while Bree was working in the hospital sector.
“I was finding the long days too much—and the mummy guilt was fairly significant.”
“General practice had always been an option for me but it became even more attractive when I was trying to find a good work/life balance.”
Bree is sure that the key to making family life and a career in medicine work is to compromise.
“There are a lot of sacrifices to be made…jumping into general practice land, financially you do initially take quite a hit, but I look at it as the payoff for investing in a future that is going to allow you a bit more balance.”
“[In general practice] you can often find flexibility you would not find in the hospital system. I have been known to block off a little bit of time to dash out for an event at school for an hour, and then pop back in. That kind of convenience is hard to put a price on.”
Despite ten years of medical experience, Bree found the change from a hospital ward to a consulting room daunting.
"My first GP training term (called GPT1) was actually quite terrifying,” Bree recalls, “that sudden realisation that I did not have my back up of specialists to call on within the hospital, I could not get my pathology results within half an hour of blood being drawn, and I did not have a whole posse of other interns, residents, registrars or consultants to turn to at the drop of a hat.”
“General practice is a really different playing field where suddenly you have to be able to make the call on whether this is something that can wait or whether you need to act now, and how you manage things like that—it is quite a quick learning curve.”
The key, according to Bree, is time and asking others if you are unsure.“I actually found that patients respond really well if you say ‘Look I’m really not sure what’s going on here but I’m pretty sure it’s not A, B and C—’ (all the sinister nasty diagnoses) ‘—so we’ve got time to work through this’.”
Good patient management and clear communication are Bree’s key aspects of being a great GP.
“I’m really big on making sure my patients are aware of what the red flags are to watch out for…we make a plan and I want them to know what things they need to take themselves off to the emergency department for if it is the weekend, or what they need to come back and contact me ASAP for.”
Like many GP trainees Bree found that there was a big gap between her first GP training term (GPT1) and her second GP training term (GPT2).
“I really found my feet in GPT2, having regular patients starting to filter in, getting my routine down, and finally feeling more comfortable with uncertainty,” Bree says.
“I think we are so programmed, especially when we are in the hospital system, to need an answer or a definitive plan…in general practice, it was quite a shift to suddenly say, ‘Let’s see how this goes, it is probably going to do X, Y and Z, so come and see me in a week’."
An array of opportunities
As well as having more control over the balance between work and personal life there are many aspects to the specialty that Bree finds attractive.
“In general practice, you are not just seeing someone to treat them for a disease in the moment, it is all about the person—the story behind the condition—and about investing in their long-term health.”
“Plus, I wanted to be able to practice a very broad range of medicine,” Bree says, “and I like the phrase, ‘If you can't do great things, do small things in a great way’. That, to me, is general practice in a nutshell.”
Another benefit to general practice is the ability to pursue your clinical interests.
“Almost anything you could dream to do in general practice, you can do,” says Bree.
“If you’ve got an interest in aviation you can do aviation medical checks, if you like an adrenaline rush combined with aviation you can become an RFDS (Royal Flying Doctor Service) doctor! If you like cosmetics, you can do cosmetic training or skin checks.”