In the spirit of conference reports, and given that my husband Gerry and I are medical conference frequenters, here is an overview of my time at the recent Future of General Practice Conference 2015, #fgp15, held at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, 22-24 April 2015. The conference is organised by General Practice Registrars Australia (GPRA), in conjunction with the General Practice Students Network (GPSN). It was aimed at students, prevocational doctors and general practice registrars, however I do not fit within any of these groups. I just can’t seem to let go after having ‘grown up’ as a doctor within GPSN and the GP Network as a ‘GP abmassador’, followed by GPRA as a Registrar Liaison Officer. Heck, GPRA were instrumental in introducing me to my now husband (thanks guys)! I also find it invigorating and fulfilling that I can now be a mentor to those who are like I was as a medical student and junior doctor, showing interest in a career in the exciting world of general practice.
Within hours of our return from the WONCA Rural conference in Dubrovnik, Croatia, we were rubbing shoulders with old friends like GPSN Chair Nicola Campbell (@NicolaMCampbell), GPRA Chair Dr. Jomini Cheong (@DoctorJom), and many others in good old Melbourne. I was impressed with the line up of star speakers for the conference and found it hard to choose between some of the concurrent sessions.
Dr. Brad McKay (@DrBradMcKay) was the first speaker of the day for the student program, whilst the GPRA Advisory Committee met for one of their biannual face-to-face meetings. Dr. McKay delivered an interesting talk about his beginnings as a media GP on reality TV show Embarrassing Bodies Down Under. He discussed how a doctor can maintain credibility as a media personality, delivering accurate and evidence-based information in a field often marred by sensationalism.
Later on the first day, I was very proud watching Gerry (@ruralflyingdoc) speak so eloquently on the “Road to Rural”. He intertwined humerous anecdotes of rural primary care and first-hand experiences of inspirational rural GP colleagues, with data from a small survey conducted through the closed Facebook group ‘GPs Down Under’. Themes of burn-out (and how to avoid it, for example by flying planes), personal-professional boundaries, scope of clinical practice, finances, challenges facing rural doctors in Australia, and the many attractions of rural general practice were considered and fleshed out. The talk featured pre-recorded audio and video input from the following rural GPs: Dr. Scott Lewis (@RuralHealthSA), Dr. David Hogg (@davidrhogg), Dr. Ewen McPhee (@Fly_texan), Dr. Casey Parker (@broomedocs) and Dr. Penny Wilson (@nomadicgp).
Unsurprisingly, there was a great turn-out to see the author of the ‘bible of General Practice’ (Murtagh’s General Practice), Emeritus Professor John Murtagh AM speak on clinical reasoning. Students were soaking up the teachings of Prof. Murtagh on the diagnostic approach and the importance of being alert and paying attention to clues in the history and examination. Prof. Murtagh finished by providing advice on what it means to be a ‘good’ doctor, including developing rapport with good communication skills, learning peoples’ preferred names, touching appropriately, listening well, and having a firm knowledge-base with a sound diagnostic model.
Social media and web design extraordinaire, medical student Mr. David Townsend was unfortunately not able to attend the conference in person, however was passionate and dedicated enough not to disappoint, by pre-recording his presentation on effecting change through social media, which can be found here. His talk was clear and concise, giving students the tools to effect great change for little cost through the use of social media for advocacy campaigns.
Day 2 included concurrent sessions for both students and junior doctors/GP registrars. There was an informative welcome to country at the opening plenary, with a yidaki (didgeridoo) demonstration. This was followed by talks from World Organisation of Family Doctors (WONCA) president Professor Michael Kidd, and Shadow Minister for Health Catherine King MP. Unfortunately, Minister for Health Sussan Ley could not attend the conference.
Prof. Kidd inspired all with his stories of innovation and passion amongst family doctors the world over, showcasing primary care models in both Cuba and Brazil. He spoke of his early training years, and great experiences with the Royal Flying Doctor Service in remote northern Australia. His experience treating sufferers of HIV/AIDS in the late 1980s and early 1990s prior to advances with anti-retroviral treatments were difficult and heart-renching, but have helped to shape the person he is today. Prof. Kidd’s closing advice was to make a difference by learning what inspires you in your mentors; to uphold your integrity, have goals, support others and find meaning in what you do.
Catherine King MP spoke of the need to strengthen primary care as the most effecient and cost-effective part of the healthcare system. I was pleased to hear also that GP registrars are apparently the ‘most satisfied’ of all medical trainees in Australia, but I am not sure of the source of this information! We then heard from Penny Shakespeare from the Department of Health, who outlined some of the recent changes to the GP training landscape. It is good to hear that GP training will be profession-led and jointly managed by our two GP training colleges, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) and the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM).
Psychologist Mr. John Boyle gave an energetic presentation about the challenge of non-compliance and the psychology of behaviour change. This was the first time I had heard of optimism as a ‘chronic condition’ – meaning that the “she’ll be right” or “it’ll never happen to me” default attitude of many can lead to inaction on healthy behaviour change.
Finally for day 2, medical writers and editors Dr. Justin Coleman (@drjustincoleman) and Dr. Carolyn O’Shea taught a small group of us how to improve our writing – for various platforms, from research papers in journals, to blog posts online. I hope I’m doing ok Justin!
Day 3 commenced with another psychologist, Dr. Richard Chambers educating the masses about the illusion of multi-tasking and the benefits of mindfulness (which I clearly need to take on board, given my tweeting during the talk…) I am looking forward to trying out the free app, @Smiling_Mind in the coming weeks.
Terry McMaster then gave out some general advice to GP registrars on financial planning, and suggested that for many, practice ownership and home ownership are good investments.
Later in the day, respected GP and medical educator Dr. Paul Grinzi (@DrGrinzi) had the unenviable task of making Medicare sexy. Dr. Grinzi managed to lead a fun, interactive session to answer some of the more curly questions about Medicare billing.
Well-known media GP Dr. Sally Cockburn (@DrSallyCockburn), otherwise known as Dr. Feelgood, was energetic and passionate about all doctors having a role in advocacy. She discussed the role of the media in tackling important issues, and how to make your voice heard. A student in the audience raised the concern that, with the growth of social media and online blogging, people with minimal or no medical training are cashing in on providing misguided ‘health & wellness’ advice veiled in pseudoscience. As a result, Dr. Cockburn encouraged us to make our voices heard as medical professionals, whether that be via social media like Twitter or blogs, or by more mainstream media like radio, magazines and television.
The closing plenary on the future of general practice was delivered by medical oncologist and writer Dr. Ranjana Srivastava. Dr. Srivastava focussed on the need for compassion in the medical profession. She highlighted that communication and connection with patients are key. It was refreshing to hear her talk of good care from GPs in her community, as well as her great respect for primary caregivers.
So with all that in mind, who or what is the future of general practice? Well, we are of course! Medical students, GP registrars and established GPs are shaping the way, and we need to do so with compassion, being mindful of the impacts (both positive and negative) that we can have on our patients, our communities and the world.