The best discipline of them all
Despite nominations for the RACGP presidency not opening until May, two GPs couldn’t wait to throw their hats in the ring. Mark O’Brien talks to one contender, Dr Liz Marles.
GP Dr Liz Marles says the reason she has spent the past two years as both the RACGP vice-president and the NSW/ACT faculty chair is the same reason she wants to be elected national president later this year: she loves general practice.
It is the reason she is a GPET board member, the reason she supervises students, registrars and prevocational doctors and, ultimately, the reason she abandoned a teaching career at the age of 28 to re-enrol in medicine.
“To make that commitment later in life, it is something you have to be passionate about,” Dr Marles says.
“I originally trained as a high school biology and maths teacher but I became more and more interested in medicine as I taught.
“I also became very interested in the course that was being offered in Newcastle and I applied as a mature age student and started when I was 28 with another five years of undergraduate work and a couple of years in hospitals ahead.
“I had two kids along the way, during my hospital internship and while I was a registrar. It’s a much more typical story these days with all the postgraduate entry courses, but it wasn’t as common at the time.”
Dr Marles believes the rewards of a career in general practice have been worth the early hardships.
“I really love general practice and value the opportunities it provides us,” she says.
“It is a privilege to have people share their most intimate times with you and to be the person they come to when they are having problems.”
It’s a perspective Dr Marles has been eager to share over the years while supervising young GPs who, she hopes, will go on to teach others in turn.
“Education is a pretty strong focus for me. When you’re well supported in a registrar or student placement you can enjoy the work you do and I think you’re more likely to go on and teach others,” she says.
“I think GPs learn to value teaching from having good teachers themselves, and from having the opportunity to teach early in their careers as registrars.
“As for the supervisor, it feels good to be inspired by young people.”
Dr Marles is also keenly aware that the profession not only needs its supervisors to keep teaching, but it also needs to find new teachers fast if it is to reap the benefits of the boom in medical student numbers, PGPPP and GP training placements.
“I really want, with the increased numbers of medical students coming through, them to see general practice as the career of choice, and I would like to see more emphasis put on providing infrastructure and support to supervisors,” she said.
“We need to make sure the GP remains at the centre as coordinator of care”
But training and education are only one element of Dr Marles’ vision for the profession and the college’s role within it.
Support and educational resources for IMGs, “often working in difficult areas” and “providing a huge workforce for us” are also in her sights, along with supporting the broader profession through the health reform process and cutting back the red tape she says reduces clinical productivity.
“We are in a period of fairly major change with Medicare locals launching and the move from traditional general practice to a model where we work as part of a broader primary health care team,” she says.
“There is a lot of potential there but we need to make sure the GP remains at the centre as coordinator of care, that the general practice remains the patient’s health care home and the doctor-patient relationship is preserved.
“The pace of change can be a problem but these changes are going to happen anyway and we need to make sure they are not a burden.
“Since the term is only two years for each president it means whoever takes the role on really has to hit the ground running, and having been the chair of the NSW and ACT faculty and a member of the council for the past four years I feel like I’m up to date.
“The college is in a fantastic position at the moment, it is the sole organisation that represents only GPs and I think we are a key organisation for taking the profession forward.
“We have a fantastic profession, I think it is the best discipline in medicine. GPs are committed to their patients and quality patient care and I think it would be a real privilege to be able to support our profession as RACGP president.”
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