Not ‘just’ a GP – a Greek perspective

This week we will be discussing the reasons behind colleagues choosing to become GPs. Dr Irini Gergianaki talks about the stigma of choosing general practice in Greece. Let us know if you ever encountered this issue and why you decided to choose general practice in the comments below.

It always starts with a list of common questions or rather assumptions:

-You were an excellent student, why did you choose to become a GP?

-What specialisation are you going to follow after the GP training?

-Come on. A GP is not a specialist! Is it?

And so on.

And then comes “that look” when you introduce yourself to a colleague or refer a case to them. On occasion even a junior specialist resident can dismiss a more experienced GP colleague due to this perception. Naturally, this is not always the case, but it happens a lot. And it hurts.

“Just” a GP

Spoken about or not, if you are a Greek GP the usual case is that the assumption is that you probably are not as good as you “should be”. You may be board-qualified, hold postgraduate degrees, be prominent in academia, have extraordinary clinical and communication skills and a wonderful relationship with your patients. But still you are …”just” a GP. Some of us keep trying or even struggling to prove that GPs are  experts in our own right. But it seems that it’s never enough.

This stigma is always there. And it runs deep. To the point that even experienced and excellent GP colleagues give into this mindset.

When I first completed my residency I left general practice, and for many years I tried to achieve something more than being just a GP. And I did, but only in terms of having a better CV. Despite gaining experience in new areas, there was always something missing. And trying to find what it is, I just realised that for many of us, general practice does not “just happen”. Even if your don’t realise it from the start, it is a choice that fits our personalities. It’s a more universal mission to help patients and to do our share in life.

It’s all about the journey

In general… general practice is stigmatised in my beautiful country (and sadly I hear similar voices from other locations as well), which faces so many other and of course more important problems at the moment. Many colleagues are just used to this problem and negatively charged perceptions; they choose to accept the discrimination. Personally, I can’t stand by and allow this to happen.

That’s why it is so important for GPs to talk about it and start the transition from themselves. Change their own perception and take pride in general practice, the profession with many challenges and one of the most broad spectrum of knowledge to master.

Stigma is a Greek origin word. It means a scar left after a battle. For me it rings true because General Practitioners in Greece give their best everyday on the frontline of primary care. And it is good to remember that some scars are a result of growing experience that makes us richer. We should wear them with pride.

Another good news is that the word stigma in modern Greek has an additional meaning. It is also a destination that a person is trying to reach.

In case you are already exploring this long, fascinating journey of being a GP remember that sometimes the journey, the people we meet, the patients we help along the way might become a goal it itself.

Over the years I have learnt that whilst trying to reach your ultimate goal of recognition and contentment, you might find that the wealth of experience you earn is the prize in itself. It might have taken some time, but finally I realised that being a GP is what makes me whole.

To quote one of the great Greek poets referring to this phenomenon and placing Homer’s Ithaca as the destination:

Keep Ithaca always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.

Ithaca gave you the marvellous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithaca mean.

(C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992)

Irini Gergianaki is a board certified GP, Master of Public Health- PhDc in Medical School, University of Crete, Greece. Her research focuses on lupus epidemiology and rural-urban differentials of disease outcomes.

She works in Rheumatology, Immunology Clinic at University Hospital as a researcher and advisor for multi-disease registry database development. She has also been leading voluntary teams for blood and organ donation for more than 10 years.

Her latest achievement is becoming a Medx semi-fanalist with an international e-team investigating the efficiency of spreading of health messages via Twitter. She is passionate about innovations, e-Health and data science.

  • Dimopoulou Sofia
    Posted at 09:36h, 18 December Reply

    Excellent article!!

    • Gergianaki Irini
      Posted at 07:31h, 22 December Reply

      THANK YOU!

    • Anastasia Stefanaki
      Posted at 23:23h, 06 January Reply

      Very well done, Irini! Keep up the good work! ! . . .

  • Cathy Welch
    Posted at 10:02h, 18 January Reply

    Oh yes, happens in U.K. too- spent a long time on completely wrong path because of false impressions, ignorance and denegration of GPs, now found best, most fulfilling, most mutually beneficial speciality possible in Primary Care.

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