Community Spotlight: Dr Erin O’Donnell-Taylor
General practice is a specialty that allows me to not only be a clinician, but also be an advocate and educator for my patients and the wider community.
Q: When did you know you wanted to become a GP?
A: I have been drawn to general practice since the beginning of medical school. My decision was strongly influenced by seeing the vital role of the general practitioner in my rural town. In fact, I spent most of my childhood thinking that GPs were the only kind of doctors that existed; it was the rural generalists that delivered the babies, fixed the broken bones, ran the local emergency departments, as well as managing chronic disease and mental health issues. I was also drawn to the continuous and holistic nature of the care that GPs provide to patients and their families. Additionally, general practice can be academically challenging, given the variety and undifferentiated nature of the presentations. My other passion is health promotion and advocacy, and GPs are in the unique position of not just treating sick people, but also preventing disease in healthy people. General practice is a specialty that allows me to not only be a clinician, but also be an advocate and educator for my patients and the wider community.
Q: What have you enjoyed most about GP training?
A: I have found general practice training to be very rewarding. The practical, hands-on experience one gets from working in a clinic with a significant amount of autonomy, but also under the guidance of a supervisor, cannot be overstated. In addition to on-the-job training, WAGPET also runs regular mini-release days; small group learning with a medical educator (who is also a practicing GP) provides additional education that is tailored specifically to the general practice environment.
A significant part of my GP training so far has been dedicated to studying for my fellowship exams, which I have recently sat and passed. While I wouldn’t say I enjoyed the exams themselves, I did enjoy the camaraderie of my weekly study group sessions, which were fuelled by many cups of tea and Tim Tams.
Q: What have been some of the challenges?
A: The saying that every day in general practice is different is true. It is challenging to know that each patient that walks through your room could present with anything, and usually something completely different from your last patient. It is a challenge to suddenly switch gears from dealing with a depressed patient, to an acute abdomen or an asthma attack, to a teen with an unwanted pregnancy, to breaking the bad news of a new cancer diagnosis. The move from the hospital system to teneral practice was also challenging. In the hospital, you’re used to having the luxury of a wealth of resources without cost to the patient. In general practice, you not only have to consider your patient’s symptoms and their diagnosis, but also each individual’s unique personal circumstances (whether it be financial, geographic, etc.) and how that impacts on their health. Diagnostic uncertainty, resource limitations, time constraints, financial constraints, patient preferences; these things used to scare me, now I find them part of the exciting challenges of being a GP. Challenges like these are what make you a good problem solver and a good advocate for your patient, which in turn, makes you a better doctor.
Q: Looking back, what advice would you give yourself as a hospital registrar?
My first piece of advice would be to work in a variety of different hospital terms and choose ones that will assist you in general practice such as emergency, paediatrics, general medicine, psychiatry and geriatrics. Even when certain terms or cases didn’t seem as directly relevant to general practice, I made a point of asking my consultants and registrars: what would you like a GP to know about this condition? I essentially used my hospital terms to not only work out how to be the best doctor I could be, but also how I could work the best in conjunction with hospital doctors once I became a GP. Secondly, the move from the hospital system to general practice presents a unique set of challenges and a GP mentor can help guide you through this transition is invaluable. They can also give advice on your training and future career plans. Thirdly, if you have a special interest, start developing this during your hospital terms. You can do this by completing a Certificate of Women’s Health or a Diploma of Emergency Medicine or Paediatrics. This will not only help you in your general practice terms, but also it will set you apart from other registrars.