Reflections on a visit to my GP

While my PhD centres on the GP setting, I am neither a doctor nor a regular patient. I’d estimate that I go to the GP about twice a year, and almost always for the same thing – checking my iron levels and/or to talk about migraines.

My experience of my GP when I was growing up wasn’t particularly insightful. I had two doctors during my childhood, and from memory only went to the second when the first retired. Visits were only made for colds, or for my bouts of severe eczema and/or hayfever.

Nothing much changed during adolescence: I don’t remember having a strong opinion of my GP, probably because I hardly saw them.  At no point was mental health raised or discussed.

For the last 15 years I have had multiple GPs, mainly due to moving around so much. I have tried to get recommendations wherever I am, which is how I found my current one (actually another doctor was recommended but because she was full I’ve ended up with another doctor at the same clinic).

A few weeks ago I had to see my GP to check a mole. Here are some reflections:

  • The doctor is one of the few people that I interact with anywhere in my life where I feel very dependent and unequal – I’m not sure if I am comfortable with this, but perhaps I am simply resigned about it. What choice do I have?
  • Usually the wait is at least 30 minutes, even when I have been one of the first appointments of the day. However last time it was 10 minutes max.
  • My GP tries hard to listen, asks direct questions and makes eye contact. However, she is decidedly brisk; there is a ‘rushed’ feel to it all – that she is busy and has other patients to see, almost as if I’m an inconvenience. She speaks quickly and I am in and out in about 10 minutes.
  • Despite a long history of migraines and mental health issues – and not having seen her for more than 6 months – my GP did not ask about these issues, even in passing. The only thing she always asks is about pap smears, which is a reminder that is prompted by an alert on her computer.
  • I see going to my GP as a chore, somehow unfulfilling – and I only see my GP if absolutely necessary. It’s a transactional relationship. It’s about early intervention (though only of physical health) – never prevention or well-being.

It makes me wonder – is this a typical experience for others too? According to the Building a 21st Century Primary Health Care System strategy published by the Department of Health and Ageing, Increasing the focus on prevention is a key priority area. It seems there is much work to do.

What’s it all about?

To my big surprise, my last blog received a spike in ‘likes’ – and when I say spike I mean going from 0 reads to something like 5 – as well as a couple of subscriptions (thank you automatic promotion of recently published posts on WordPress!!). A further surprise was the quite random and rather obscure people who liked/subscribed. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing (actually thank you so much for reading!), though it does make me wonder a bit more seriously about what exactly the point of this blog is – Is it purely about getting into the important Writing Routine? Is there any need and/or interest from people working or researching in the same area? What is the point of it all!?

When in doubt and confusion, I, as many PhD students before and after me, turn to the oracle  sage wisdom of The Thesis Whisper. And, yes, there is a blog post about blogging. As you would expect it provides succinct and useful advice to enable you to conceptualise your blog’s purpose and audience. The idea of creating your own editorial guidelines hadn’t occured to me. And for some reason answering the questions posed is actually a lot harder than you’d think it would be  – perhaps because I am still struggling to resolve what my research question and methodology will be.  However, although I am struggling to answer all the questions posed, I can answer some and I’m hoping that counts for something. For instance – I know that I can offer a fairly unique experience, having worked in the non-profit sector for 10 years, with first-hand experience translating research to practice, using innovative methodology in the area of my research. What is not so clear is, oddly, what I will write about. 

I guess there will always be a lingering doubt that blogs are basically self-indulgent (and who else might ever want to read what you blog about), but I guess you just have to push that fear to the back of your mind, and keep true to your own editorial guidelines and purpose. I also think I need to spend some time reading blogs in area similar to me. The only one that I know of that comes close is the excellent Family Practice, written by a US GP about using technology in her practice (and of course so much more!). And perhaps I also need to rewrite my ‘About’ section to articulate more clearly what this is all about. 

Shut up and write (now)

As I’ve written about previously in this blog, when I was thinking about applying to do a PhD by far the most common piece of advice I got from people who had completed their PhD was along the lines of ‘you must get a great supervisor’.

Well, I’m happy to report that  – touch obligatory piece of wood and pray to the Gods in thanks – I seem to have successfully accomplished this (early days and all that but I am very hopeful…)

Interestingly a piece of advice that didn’t get mentioned by anyone was about writing. Given the central nature of writing to a PhD – in the form of a 100,000 word thesis, not to mention multiple other writing like ethics, update reports, various other applications – this seems rather surprising in hindsight. It is only now, 2 months into it, that my supervisors have started – repeatedly and almost a bit alarmingly over the last week or two – telling me I must ‘start writing’.

Of course, this directive is very wise and sensible! But the ‘what’ is not defined – we are currently debating about whether I should start with a systematic review or whether an analysis of previous related research data is most appropriate and relevant. Which actually means that I don’t have anything to write about (I’m rather confused a out whether ‘notes’ count).

Which brings me to this blog  – and me writing this blog at Shut Up and Write I’ve always rather liked writing – or maybe more accurately I like words – though admittedly I have been a tad scared of it too and spent way too much time deliberating (agonizing!) over the composition of one sentence or word – but, generally, once I get going I certainly appreciate the opportunity writing gives to compose thoughts in a more ordered and rational way. Above all, I think – at least for the time being – I really have to LET GO the thought that all my writing/blogging must be ground-breaking and amazing works of academia (Honestly!) (though I can’t let go of the hope that this may come to pass one day in the future).

I’m hoping that will encourage me to write in a more disciplined and strategic way.