I am a general practitioner, are you? When a patient says they need or want to see a general practitioner I put my hand up. But so do a lot of other people. Some of those people are better general practitioners than me and some are not so good, but what if the people who are putting their hand up are not general practitioners? Are PGPPP doctors general practitioners? I think not. Do patients know when they are seeing a PGPPP doctor? Almost always. Are GP registrars general practitioners? Not yet. Do patient’s know when they are seeing a GP registrar? Sometimes. What about the other doctors working in general practice?
The situation in general practice is now much like that in hospital. There are many types of doctors at varying levels of experience and qualifications working in general practice. The following types come to mind in order of qualification:
- International medical graduates that have not passed the clinical AMC (Intern level exam) and working on the basis of exemption from Medicare restrictions
- Australian graduates doing prevocational experience in general practice who are interns (PGPPP – will cease from Jan 2015)
- International medical graduates who have the full AMC and working on the basis of exemption from Medicare restrictions
- Australian graduates doing prevocational experience in general practice who have full registration (PGPPP – will cease from Jan 2015)
- International medical graduates with full AHPRA registration working on the basis of exemption from Medicare restrictions
- Doctors training to be a specialist general practitioner or a specialist rural generalist
- Doctors who have VR based on experience in general practice including grandfathered Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine Fellows (FACRRM)
- Doctors who have completed their Fellowship assessment by the RACGP or their Fellowship assessment by ACRRM
The only clearly discernible group of doctors, from the public’s perspective, who have completed and passed an objective assessment by their peers (and so demonstrating that they meet a standard of care necessary to provide a quality general practice service) is doctors with the Fellowship of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (FRACGP). There is another small group who have completed formal assessment, the graduates of ACRRM, but these are not distinguishable from those given the qualification based on experience.
I believe the public has the right to know if they are seeing a specialist general practitioner or rural generalist who has completed formal assessment. I understand that there are many reasons why this is not transparent to the general public, but this needs to change. I suggest that we reserve the name ‘general practitioner’ for those doctors working in primary care who have their FRACGP and ‘rural generalist’ for those who have an assessment based FACRRM (FARGPs could use rural general practitioner?). The reserved name may be “specialist general practitioner” and “specialist rural generalist” if that suits but it needs to be meaningful to the public. Other doctors need to be presented in a way that the public can discern the role and qualifications attained. We can set a deadline for this in 5 or 10 years to give people a chance to be formally assessed, but after that, doctors who have not been formally assessed should not use the reserved name. After all, you cannot call yourself a dermatologist because you work in a dermatology unit; in fact you might well be taken to court.
This may all appear to be in my own self interest; I have the FRACGP and I want to see change. But how on earth do we argue for the value of training in general practice and rural generalism unless the outcome and benefit is available and visible to the people of Australia. Statements like “I will never see a doctor from overseas ever again” or “I just saw a rubbish GP” are increasingly common where I work and unpleasant to respond to. To be fair to all doctors I need to explain to this patient that there is a huge variety of doctors working in general practice and that a blanket statement like this is not appropriate. When the patient asks me how to tell if the doctor is OK, I say, “The only doctor you can be sure of based on their qualification is one with the FRACGP”. Do you have a better idea?