By Luigi Zolio
In a profession where we spend our lives looking after people, it’s ironic that we as medical students don’t pay enough attention to our own health. Perhaps the most important step you can take to maintaining good health is getting yourself a GP. Why?
- Your GP is your insurance policy
We don’t get to choose when we get sick. It’s not really something you can schedule on your Google Calendar with a starting and finishing time. Illness is unpredictable and strikes when you least expect it. Or worse, it creeps up on you and by the time you realise you are unwell, damage has been done to your academic performance and your personal life. Being connected with a GP when you’re well is your insurance policy, it ensures you have somebody who understands you and knows your history when you become unwell.
- Doctors and medical students are not great at looking after themselves
It is well established that doctors and medical students have higher rates of mental illness and suicide than the average population. While the reasons for this are not necessarily clear, we can postulate our Type A personalities, combined with a high stress working and studying environment, along with some lack of self-care sprinkled on top provide a deadly recipe. We work hard, play hard and don’t sleep much in the process, or eat, or exercise. If there is somebody well-placed to counsel and guide you towards better self-care, it is not your mother, it is not your bodybuilding housemate, and it is certainly not Ashy Bynes on Instagram. A GP can provide you with objective advice away from personal judgements of family or friends, and guide you towards making positive steps to staying healthy.
If you need some counselling or psychotherapy, your GP can write you a Mental Health Care Plan (2), a document that provides you with ten Medicare-funded visits to a psychologist per year.
- Self-medicating is BAD
While having a best mate’s parent or an older sibling who is a doctor means you can get your script for the contraceptive pill or some codeine for when your migraine hits without seeing a doctor, there are many reasons to avoid asking your doctor friends for favours. This practice puts the prescribing doctor at medico-legal risk, and it is not a responsible way for you to look after your own health. Most medications require some level of follow-up with a doctor. Further, it does not matter how much knowledge you have, even the most experienced doctors can make fatal mistakes when trying to self-manage and medicate. Stories of opioid or benzodiazepine abuse amongst doctors are far too common. Being well-connected with a GP means you have somebody who can manage your medications appropriately and safely, without putting yourself or others at risk.
- Your parents or close friends can’t be your GP
One of the many perks of having a GP is having somebody who will listen non-judgementally to you as you share your embarrassing ailments. While I applaud anybody who can openly discuss their sexual life with their own parents, there is no way I would ever feel comfortable or want to put my parents through such agony, even if they were doctors. There are many other times when your parents, close friends or family members are not well-placed to listen to your personal health information. For the benefit of objectivity, medico-legal responsibilities as well as your privacy, it is absolutely essential to have somebody who is not a family member be your doctor.
So how do you find a GP who you trust?
- Visit a GP from a long time ago who you liked.
Some of us are not well-connected with a long-term GP but rather see whoever can treat us at the nearest convenience. While I would highly recommend having ongoing contact with a single GP, GP-hopping is useful if you are testing out different GPs’ styles and practices. If there was one you struck upon who was particularly good, why not book in to see them again when you next need to see a doctor?
If you are a first year student, you have the perfect opportunity to see a doctor: you might need advice on what immunisations you need to get as you start your journey in medicine. This is your shot to get to know a GP. Alternatively, it is flu shot season, take the opportunity!
- Check yourself
Chances are, if you are a young person over the age of 18 it is more likely than not that you have been sexually active (though it is perfectly ok if you have not!). The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners recommends that people between the age of 15 and 30 should have a yearly chlamydia screen, and depending on your sexual practices it may be in your interests to be checked for other sexually transmitted infections (3). There is nothing like the relief of a negative result, and the most common STIs easily treated with a short course of antibiotics. If you plan to encourage your patients to get themselves checked, you better practise what you preach.
- Certificates of absence
Flu season is well and truly on its way – you fall ill, you might need a certificate of absence to hand to the university. Use the opportunity to get to know a new GP if you are looking for one, or return to one who you’ve been to previously.
So where do I find a GP?
Sometimes, admittedly, finances are a barrier for students. There are many GPs who are happy to bulk bill medical students as an extension of the doctor-doctor professional courtesy, but some may not. Lucky for you, MUMUS has prepared a list of bulk-billing services for medical students across Victoria, available here.
In most urban areas there are clinics with GPs who bulk bill every patient, and universities often run bulk billing clinics for students. In rural areas, while it is best not to see your own supervising GP, they may be able to connect you with someone who might be able to bulk bill you.
Happy GP hunting!
- Beyond Blue. National Mental Health Survey of Doctors and Medical Students. Available at: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/docs/default-source/research-project-files/bl1132-report—nmhdmss-full-report_web [Accessed on 14 April 2016]
- Australian Government. Fact Sheet for Patients: Better Access to Mental Health Care. Available at: https://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/content/0F792912834609B4CA257BF0001B74FA/$File/patients2.pdf [Accessed on 18 May 2016]
- RACGP. Guidelines for preventive activities in general practice: STIs. 8th Edition. Available at: http://www.racgp.org.au/your-practice/guidelines/redbook/communicable-diseases/stis/ [Accessed on 18 May 2016]
- MUMUS Community & Wellbeing. The Get-a-GP Campaign. Available at: https://app.box.com/s/6ybemev7jws5hxirdthbtgje6rzakdmm [accessed on 18 May 2016].