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This is part of an ongoing monthly series capturing the highs, low (and everything in between) in my life as a freelance doctor working in Singapore. If you’re interested in finding out about medical/non-medical careers or getting answers to doctoring-related questions, check out my Chasing Careers series!
I never thought I’d be quoting Animal Farm, but I feel like a paraphrase of this quote would be suitable here: “All
animals doctors are equal, but some animals doctors are more equal than others.”
When hanging out with some long-time friends recently, one friend, herself an ambitious surgery gunner, passed an offhanded remark that she would never want to be ‘just a GP’.
For fellow medical folks, you’d probably understand what I mean when I say that some specialists (or even residency gunners) ‘look down’ on GPs or non-specialists. As my non-medical bestie pointed out, it’s baffling, because many people would give an arm and a leg just to be any kind of doctor at all. But it is what it is.
So, in this month’s post, I’ll attempt to explore perceptions & stereotypes about General Practitioners/non-specialists, and also share some pretty exciting news (which I’ve already spoilered in the title). 😛
Being a General Practitioner isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and different dispositions are drawn to different specialties. It’s usually pretty apparent early on, even during medical school, whether a person is more medically or surgically inclined, or neither (in which case you’ll just float around until you figure it out).
If you’ve been on the internet long enough, you’d probably recognise the ‘Virgin vs Chad‘ meme, chock full of funny yet oddly accurate stereotypes:
Painting with a broad brush, medical types are calmer, enjoy ruminating over cases, desire more time outside of work, and don’t care about money as much; on the other hand, surgical types are more intense, love hands-on work, don’t mind having a worse work-life balance, and have their eyes on the moolah. I’ve even heard of some surgeons who fanatically practice fast knot tying on the drive home, with a piece of string tied to their steering wheel.
The exception to both stereotypes would be Orthopods (Orthopaedic surgeons), who have the best of both worlds: a fairly chill lifestyle, lots of gymming, plenty of sawing/drilling of bones, and even more money/wine/good steak.
What about General Practitioners then? Stereotypes really depend on who you ask, but in general, we’re laid-back, friendly towards patients, less ambitious and not as money-oriented (because let’s face it, our income is never going to be scalable).
As a purveyor of eViDeNcE-bAsEd MeDiCiNe, I even bothered googling ‘research paper about stereotypes of general practitioners’ and this oddly-niche, yet 100% real Brazilian research paper popped up:
The general practitioner was characterized to be a sensitive and concerned doctor with a close relationship with the patient (45%); calm, tranquil, and balanced (27%); with intellectual skills (25%); meticulous and attentive to details (23%); slow to resolve problems and make decisions (22%); and working more with probabilities and hypotheses (20%).
The surgeon was considered to be practical and objective (40%); quickly resolving problems (35%); technical with manual skills (23%); omnipotent, arrogant, and domineering (23%); anxious, stressed, nervous, and temperamental (23%); and more decided, secure, and courageous (20%).Bellodi, P. L. (2004). The general practitioner and the surgeon: Stereotypes and Medical Specialties. Revista Do Hospital Das Clínicas, 59(1), 15–24. https://doi.org/10.1590/s0041-87812004000100004
Yes, I cited it in APA format like a proper academic would….and it’s actually a pretty relatable read LOL
On a good day, I’d happily identify with most of the GP stereotypes. But at 8.30am on a Monday morning, when there’s a solid queue of 15 people outside the clinic before it’s even open*, all illusions of tranquility all but evaporate…or when I’ve seen my 30th flu patient of the day and prescribed the exact same medications, to the point where even a monkey could do my job.
*that was the situation every Monday back when I was still working as a full-time GP, but now I avoid the Monday flood & blues by only working afternoons 😛
But I absolutely love interacting with my patients and knowing that I can bless them with much-needed medications (doctors are basically legal drug dealers) or days off work, and that’s what will always keep me coming back for more.
‘just a GP’
Anyway, let me circle back to the topic of being ‘just a GP’. Family Medicine is sometimes seen as the backup career choice of (1) burnt-out doctors, (2) those who simply couldn’t get into any residency/specialty training, or (3) others who couldn’t be bothered to join the years-long queue for competitive residencies.
“Are you only going to be a GP?” is an unwittingly loaded question that I’ve been asked on multiple occasions. Maybe I’m overanalysing, but it’s a question with layers: it suggests that (1) being a Family Physician/GP is an inferior choice, or that (2) being a GP is equated with having less ambition.
Well, it really depends on who’s asking. To a surgeon-wannabe, the thought of not wielding a scalpel and being trapped within the four walls of a clinic is the blandest version of a future for them. For aspiring Gen Med physicians, only seeing relatively healthy patients day in and day out would be a dull existence, compared to in the hospital where they’d see a mix of chronic patients in clinic and acutely ill ones in the wards.
But here’s my two cents worth: it’s not as important to ask ‘Which specialty did you choose?’, as ‘Why did you choose it?’
I polled my friends who chose Family Medicine residencies or are already working as GPs/locums, and here’s the wide range of reasons (from the most to least common) they gave for picking this career path:
- Good work-life balance
- No more calls
- No more long or unpredictable working hours
- Just wanted to get into a residency that didn’t have terrible rotations
- Enjoying clinic work more than ward rounds or being in the Operating Theatre
- Better able to juggle family/other commitments
- Finding primary care more fulfilling
- Didn’t know what else to pick or gave up waiting to get into other residencies
So yes, there exists a career path that’s more than taking endless exams, being laden with 101 responsibilities that prevent you from going home while the sun’s up, and waiting years for your boss to leave for the private sector just so you can move up in the queue for your Consultant promotion?
For those who are still on the fence or only choosing a residency as a badge of honour, please don’t torture yourselves. Come to GP land – we have cookies (and time to bake*)!
*a new hobby I picked up because I finally have free time on my hands! 😀
While I opted not to climb the ranks in the public healthcare sector, being the ever-fidgety creature that I am, I ended up stumbling headfirst into yet another exciting new commitment.
I just joined a startup
Here’s how it happened.
I’d been toying with the idea of founding my own startup since late-2022, when I befriended some startup bros and saw how genuinely excited & inspired they were by their work. I slowly began dabbling in basic coding/business/marketing – a little bit of everything that Med school never quite taught us. But as luck would have it, the incubator I had planned to apply for (Entrepreneur First) pulled out of Singapore just this year, so I shelved the idea.
Serendipitously enough, I was recently scouted to be the Chief Medical Officer of SenzeHub, a health-tech startup that aims to improve population health in Singapore by integrating technology (health-monitoring wearables, exergaming) with community outreach (befriending, social prescribing) and direct patient care (health screening, telemedicine & house calls).
It’s a vision that’s well-aligned with my values, skill-set (clinical experience & understanding of the local healthcare system) and passion (health education & learning about business), so I said yes without any hesitation. The existing team comprises skilled techies, with myself and another doctor being the latest additions.
We got the ball rolling in a matter of days, arranging meetings/networking, creating project launch timelines, making expansion plans; it’s been a flurry of activity. If I had been employed full-time, I would simply not have had the flexibility or time to take on this new responsibility, so I’m just really grateful for my current flexi work-life arrangements. :’)
Pessimistically speaking, 90% of startups fail, but regardless of the outcome, I’m committed to this (currently unpaid) role, because it’ll be one heck of an interesting chapter in my life story!
2023 has been evolving beyond my wildest dreams, but I’ll keep y’all posted. Thanks to all my readers for tagging along on this new journey with me, and shout-out to my friends/loved ones who’ve been nothing but supportive of me undertaking this new venture.
Looking for medical indemnity insurance to protect yourself from legal troubles? I compared various options and eventually settled on NTUC Income’s Medical Indemnity Policy for slightly under $1.4k annually for GPs. I’m helping my insurance agent out (he’s a nice elderly uncle), so just drop me an Instagram DM/email and I’ll pass you his details; he’ll handle the rest! 🙂
As always, here’s my song rec for the month. Maisie Peters’ Lost The Breakup is the catchiest song of 2023, and you’ll find yourself bopping to it even if you’re happily attached:
I’m the best thing that almost happened to you
I know I’m obsessed and
Right now, I might be a mess but
One day, you’re gonna wake up
And, oh shit, you lost the breakup
I’ll smile and you’ll have to face it
I’m the greatest love that you wasted
But, by then, I’ll be far away
And, oh shit, you lost the breakup
That’s all for this month’s post, so be sure to follow my Insta or Facebook to stay up to date with my life/career/travel adventures. Or simply join my mailing list so you’ll be the first to know when a new post drops!
P.S. This blog is my passion project and self-funded, so if you enjoy my writing and want to contribute some spare change towards my annual WordPress Premium plan, why not make a little donation here? 🙂
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If you’re interested in exploring my blog, click here for an index of all the posts I’ve ever written (travel, doctoring, psychology, random musings), or check out my most read series below:
- the Chasing Dreams series: a series chronicling my thoughts, dreams & changing ideals over the years (since 2018), including burnout, quitting the rat race, migration and trying to find my path in life
- the (not-so-definitive) guide to doctoring: Getting into Med School & FAQs | Surviving your Clinical Years | MBBS Tips | Life as a M1 // M2 // M3 // M4 // M5 during COVID // Life as a Doctor (monthly series) | Chasing Careers series
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