Samir Dawlatly: A case of semantics

The problem lies in semantics. GP. General practitioner. Could one be more vague than that? There’s an argument that since, on the whole, we provide general medical services (in medical centres) we should be called general medical practitioners. After all, my undergraduate training was in medicine and surgery, not simply everything in general.

Around the time I completed my training to become a G(M)P, I became very downhearted by what I expected to be the likely outcomes of the Health and Social Care Act. I hadn’t been particularly politically aware in the lead-up to the passing of the bill, as I was too busy trying to cram consultations into 10 minutes and learn all the red flags that I was supposed to know.

When I expressed my concerns about the future, a rather well known GP told me, “But it’s a vocation, isn’t it? Being a GP.” And that’s the second word that causes me problems: vocation. To qualify as a GP, I had to complete a Vocational Training Scheme. The word comes from the Latin verb vocare, which means “to call.” It more than implies that general practice is a career which is a calling, an almost spiritual destination.

The issue with referring to it as such is that for something to be a calling, it must become a labour of love, which demands above and beyond what is normally expected or remunerated—something which seems unattainable and impossible. It implies that, despite all the political and media attacks, we will continue to do the good work. And, despite the seemingly endless bureaucratic hoops that we are required to jump through, we are still expected to put patients first and show them that their GP cares—because it has been ordained so.

I propose that we get rid of the term “Vocational Training Scheme,” replacing it with something that is more realistic, and which describes what it actually does: something like “Core General Practice Training.” I don’t claim that it will fill all the vacancies that currently exist, but at least it won’t give the impression that this particular specialty is after the whole of your life and will wring out every last drop of your energy—even if it does sometimes.

As I’m having my three wishes from the renaming genie, perhaps it is time to rename ourselves as general medical practitioners, or family doctors, as well? And my final wish? That patients would cotton on to the idea.

“Actually Ms Davison, I am not qualified, nor paid, to write a letter with an opinion on whether your current residence is unsuitable for you. Is there anything medical I can help you with today?”

Samir Dawlatly is a GP partner at Jiggins Lane Surgery in Birmingham. He combines clinical practice with being a part time house husband and an interest in social media, as well as publishing poems, essays, and blogs. He can be found on Twitter as @sdawlatly.

I have read and understood the BMJ policy on declaration of interests and declare the following interests: secretary of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) Adolescent Health Group, and a member of the RCGP online working group on overdiagnoisis.