National Association for Patient Participation

NI A student perspective on why to choose general practice in Northern Ireland

27 November 2017

At the RCGPNI Awards Ceremony in early November, three students from Queen’s University Belfast were presented with prizes for their entries to our annual student essay competition.

RCGPNI started the essay competition last year to encourage students to share their aspirations and experiences of general practice. This year, we asked the students to tell us in 500 words why they are attracted to a future career as a GP.

The entries did not disappoint… we received many fantastic stories and anecdotes about why our local students want to be a GP, with many similar themes noticeable throughout – building relationships with patients, being there for people when they need help and support, caring and treating patients over time, being challenged by not knowing what presentation you would see in your next consultation, work-life balance, working as part of the primary care team, and the list goes on…

Amongst all of the creative and emotive writing, three entries stood out above the rest. We were delighted to announce Rebecca Evans as the winner of the competition, with Helen Morgan and Rachael Henderson as runners-up.

Here are a few snippets from the essays:

Winner: Rebecca Evans

Holistic care
Knowing your patient


TRUST Being trusted by patients brings responsibility. The patient trusts me, the GP, to diagnose but he also entrusts information that he wouldn’t tell close family and friends. A patient who trusts his ‘good GP’ feels he has an additional source of support in his life. The surgery is not a sanctuary but it is a safe, trusted space. I want to earn the privilege of others placing trust in me.

NEED With the current recruitment crisis, the need for GPs has never been greater. It is no secret that being a GP is incredibly hard work, anyone who thinks it an easy option is in for a real shock. However, despite the recent bad press, my experience so far is that the work of the GP brings its own rewards. Perhaps life will teach me different but I prefer to look at general practice not for what it is at the moment, but for what it might be in the future.

Runner Up: Helen Morgan
“Why on earth would you want to be a GP?”

Said a budding young surgeon just before I started my two-week voluntary elective in general practice - “All they do is refer on to us!”

How high-brow of him I thought, but it made me question why am I so interested in general practice? With media headlines constantly screaming ‘GPs IN CRISIS!!’, was I mad to waste my time? Should I look into a cosy job in “derm-a-holiday” and live life a little more stress-free? Anyway, off I went to spend my first two weeks of a six-week elective programme in a GP practice in Lisburn, eager to prove my ‘surgeon-to-be’ friend’s perceptions wrong.

The first patient I saw was a 56-year-old lady. When she came into the room I smiled and asked her why she had come to the doctor today. She took a deep breath and relayed all her worries to me. She spoke about her recent diagnosis of breast cancer, her fears and concerns with regards to her children and who was going to look after her mother. She told me about the pressures she was under in work and the financial burden she felt she was to her husband. After she spoke she breathed a sigh of relief, “Thank-you, for listening to me” she said.

… As I came to the end of my attachment, I concluded that the GP is truly the heartbeat of the community.

So “Why on earth would you what to be a GP?” Well, why not?

Runner Up: Rachael Henderson
With a rapidly aging population of patients who have multiple co-morbidities, general practitioners or medical generalists have never played such a vital role in the health care system. General practice acts as the foundation to all other medical specialities and the role of general practitioners is becoming increasingly important as there is greater focus being placed on trying to manage patients at home in the primary care setting.

I can’t think of any other medical specialty that can offer you the variety and diversity that general practice offers - every ten minutes you are presented with a different clinical scenario that can range from minor acute symptoms right through to chronic complex conditions. General practice can be challenging and stimulating as you encounter conditions and problems that you may not have encountered before. In primary care, there are fewer investigations that are readily available and therefore your clinical skills and examination findings are vital in deciding whether a patient needs referral or admission to hospital.

Unfortunately, despite all of the attractions and opportunities that come with a career as a general practitioner, we continue to face a GP shortage in Northern Ireland. General practice has changed considerably over the past few decades – it offers an incredibly challenging and diverse career! If you are a student who has not considered a future career in primary care, think again. You can access more information about the realities of life as a GP here: or contact Michelle in the Belfast office at

RCGPNI would like to thank all of the students who took part in the essay competition!

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