GP Myths

Picking a medical specialty can feel like an overwhelming task. To help ease any of your concerns, here are the top GP myths, busted!

Myth #1

All GPs do is prescribe the pill, write referrals, and sign sick notes.
Reality: GPs are the only medical professionals who practise the full scope of medicine.
Myth—Busted! See how...

Any patient—with any condition—can walk into a GP’s practice. A GP must be able to diagnose the patient, no matter which part of the body, and determine the best course of action—whether treatment can wait or whether they need to act immediately.

GPs may encounter the ‘usual’ conditions or patients—but this is the same for all specialties. However, unlike other specialties, the presentation of the ‘usual’ gives a GP the opportunity to nurture an ongoing relationship with the patient and discuss overall and preventative healthcare.

“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.” — Dr Bree Wright, WA

Myth #2

General practice isn’t a specialty.
Reality: In 1999 the Australian Medical Council (AMC) included general practice as one of 17 specialties then recognised in Australia.
Myth—Busted! See how...

In addition to the years spent studying in university and training in the hospital, GPs specialise by doing an additional three or four years of specialist training.

A GPs knowledge and skills specialise across all parts of the body. GPs are often the first health professional a patient may see on their healthcare journey and so, a GP must identify the patient’s condition and know how best to treat the patient.

Additionally, the final 6 to 12 months of GP training involves advanced or extended skills training. These skills often align with the clinical interests of the GP and can involve training in anything from obstetrics and gynaecology, to oncology, to Aboriginal health, to cosmetic medicine, and much more.

Myth #3

GPs don’t do any hands-on skills.
Reality: GPs practise a range of hands-on skills – even more so for rural and remote GPs.
Myth—Busted! See how...

GPs get to practise plenty of hands-on skills day-to-day.

According to surveys conducted with metro and rural GPs, common procedures in the general practice setting include:

  • application of wound and burn dressings
  • suturing
  • obstetrics and gynaecological procedures
  • ear, nose and throat procedures
  • injections (intradermal, intramuscular, subcutaneous, etc)
  • application and removal of casts
  • reduction of dislocated joints
  • urethral catheterisation
  • cardiopulmonary resuscitation
  • cannulation and venepuncture
  • administration of local anaesthetic
  • removal of foreign body (from the eye, subcutaneous, external auditory canal, nose etc)
  • spirometry.

In particular, GPs in rural and remote areas will be required to hold and use a wide set of practical skills, particularly as they may be the only medical professional in an area where the nearest hospital is an hour or more away.

For example, a rural GP can undertake emergency skills training to have the training to respond to emergency situations where they may be the first and only health professional at the scene.

Through advanced specialised training and extended skills training, which is a mandatory part of GP training, GP registrars advance and learn skills in an area of clinical interest. They will then have the skills to see patients presenting with conditions and concerns which align with their extra skills and clinical interests.

“I do see lots of interesting things and I do manage emergencies occasionally and do suturing, obstetrics and gynaecology, and paediatrics.” — Dr Winny Santa Maria, a metro GP in WA

Myth #4

GPs do not make much money.
Reality: A full-time GP in Australia can earn an average annual income of $200,000, with the potential to earn much more depending on their employment choices.
Myth—Busted! See how...

While it is true that a GP registrar’s earnings may dip during GP training, this changes once they achieve fellowship.

Unlike doctors within the hospital system bound by rigid employment awards, GPs are, in most contexts, considered independent contractors and have more freedom and flexibility to negotiate their employment.

GPs can maximise their income by taking control of their employment choices. They can negotiate a higher percentage of billings per patient. They can control how many patients they see in an hour, extend their clinical sessions per week, spend additional hours on-call, take up Government incentives to work in rural or remote areas, or do procedural work.

Income can be further maximised by adjusting the percentage of privately and bulk-billed patients, or a GP can own their own practice.

Locum GP work can be a very financially attractive option, especially in rural and remote areas where GPs are paid government subsidies and given financial assistance to help them relocate. GPs may also want to further maximise their income by working for an after-hours GP service.

Benefits beyond the financial are an attractive component of a GP’s employment. GPs have greater control over their working hours or they can work part-time, plus, GPs are known to have greater flexibly over taking annual or sick leave.

The best things about general practice is that the choice is yours, and you are in control.

Myth #5

GPs don’t get to practise challenging, exciting medicine.
Reality: One of the exciting things about being a GP is that any patient – with any condition – can walk into your practice.
Myth—Busted! See how...

GPs are usually the first medical professional that many patients visit. A GP must diagnose the patient, no matter which part of the body is affected, which means having a huge breadth of knowledge.

In many hospital settings, a doctor usually has a backup of specialists and consultants to call upon and can get pathology results within half an hour of blood being drawn.

A GP is in a room by themselves with a patient and they have to make the decision. They have to be confident to manage whatever walks through their door, and to make the call on whether the patient can wait or whether they need to act immediately.

“One day I was an obstetrician, delivering a patient’s baby, the next day I was a paediatrician, treating her sick toddler, the next day I was her general physician, looking after her elderly mother.” — read the story of Dr David Lam, SA

Myth #6

GPs are stuck in a boring clinic.
Reality: GPs practise medicine where ever people live and work.
Myth—Busted! See how...

In a lifetime, not everyone will visit a cardiologist, an orthopaedic surgeon or a gastroenterologist. However, everyone will encounter primary healthcare. As such, GPs practise medicine where ever people live and work.

GPs can subspecialise or practise in a range of different areas, which can take a GP to a variety of locations. This can include:

  • Rural and remote medicine
  • Aboriginal healthcare
  • Australia Defence Force
  • Alpine medicine
  • Sports medicine
  • Antarctic medicine
  • Aviation medicine
  • Hospital in the home

Read more about where general practice can take you!

“As a rural GP, I can do pre-pregnancy counselling, diagnose and manage the pregnancy, deliver the baby, give the child the immunisations and manage the immediate and long-term health of mother and baby.” —read the story of Dr Bob Vickers, NSW

Myth #7

General practice is dominated by old male GPs.
Reality: the face of general practice has changed in Australia.
Myth—Busted! See how...

As is the case in all areas of medicine, there are doctors who have been practising the specialty for years. However, the face of general practice in Australia is changing. According to the latest data, 64.5% of all Australian GP registrars are female. Many of these GP registrars are becoming GP supervisors post-fellowship and will go on to inspire and train the next generation of Australian GPs.

“A lot of the older GPs, they’re doctors, that’s what they do, that’s their life, their being…(but now) the expectations from the community and from individual doctors are very different to what they were 20 or 30 years ago.”—read the story of Dr Tim Francis, NSW

Myth #8

GPs only picked general practice because they didn’t get into another specialty.
Reality: GPs pick general practice because of its unique advantages.
Myth—Busted! See how...

According to a recent GPRA member survey, failure to gain acceptance into another specialty was not one of the top five reasons GP registrars picked general practice.

Junior doctors pick general practice because it requires depth and breadth of knowledge, it is a specialty where they can build ongoing relationships with their patients, and because they have more control over their work-life balance.

Because of these reasons, and many more, many registrars transfer into general practice training from other specialties.

“If I have a patient with diabetes I look after all their diabetes, I look after their cardiology, I look after their kidney disease.” — Dr Ian Arthur, NSW