Despite the bad press they receive for missing problems with patients, not listening to them or fobbing them off, and despite having experienced a lot of this of this myself over the years, I think it’s important to consider the other side of the story too.
GPs are, as their abbreviated title suggests, general practitioners. Whilst some may have training in certain areas, a history within other fields or specific areas of interests, broadly speaking they are generalised. They are trained to be Jacks of all trades, which may result in them being a master of none, but it does result in doctors having a bit of knowledge in many areas.
Imagine the average day at the GP surgery. Those in the waiting room can vary in age significantly for a start. A pregnant woman, new-born baby, toddler, adolescent, and any age in between right up to 90s and even over 100. That’s a lot of different age-specific issues, issues that tend to be associated with different life stages. Next, consider the body from head to toe, and all of the bits and bobs in between that you can see and those organs you can’t. The amount of things that could go wrong with our amazingly detailed and capable bodies is vast and never-ending.
GP training, according to current information available, tends involve a 5 year degree course in medicine, followed by a 2 year foundation programme of general training, and then another 3 years of specialist training in general practice. That’s 10 years there already.
Unless you are able to come across every condition going and study for hundreds of years, not to mention to be able to retain it all in your head, you won’t be able to adequately know about everything. This is why there are specialists who are trained more specifically and who should have the knowledge and skills in defined areas that the average GP won’t have.
But that’s not all. GPs, and often specialists, don’t know everything about specific ailments, tests or treatments. Period.
Medicine is constantly evolving, drugs being tested, investigations being devised. And they don’t know all about patient experiences, or what the views and treatment of certain conditions are elsewhere in the world. They will likely be instructed on one approach and learn of what is NICE approved and NHS or privately available in the UK. The additional knowledge comes from their experiences with their patients or the reading they do outside of what is taught and recommended, so it’s not surprising that doctors, surgeons and specialists differ in their approaches and beliefs.
Of course, lack of knowledge, ignorance and differing opinions can be incredibly frustrating. But I think it helps to remember that we can’t set our expectations too high and that they are only human. In doing so, perhaps we can help to fill in the gaps and help to educate them a little along the way.