“I want you to be my friend, not my patient” – social dilemmas for rural GPs.

I’ve just read a brilliant column by Dr Mel Clothier in this month’s Rural Doctor

Making friends is hard to do | Rural Doctor

She talks about how hard it is for rural doctors to separate their professional and social lives. This is such an important, difficult and often under-appreciated problem for rural doctors, especially when they’re starting out and trying to get established in a rural area. Although such dual relationships are challenging for everyone, I get the impression that the friendship/ patient dilemma is often hardest for young single females (would be happy to hear any opinions to the contrary!).

I know that I found it really hard as a registrar. This aspect of rural practice contributed significantly to my being almost burned out by the end of my training. Overworked and socially isolated, I thought that I may have made a big mistake in becoming a rural GP.

Trying to make social connections for the purposes of friendship are problematic enough, but add the desire for an intimate relationship into the mix, and you have a whole other layer of messy. For very good reasons, the separation has to be absolute, which cuts down one’s dating options in a small country town drastically.

When I’d first moved to a rural area, two years out of med school, romance was the last thing on my mind. My boyfriend had died during my intern year – of testicular cancer – and it took me a long time to be ready to move on. When I finally was ready to consider a new relationship and hopefully, in time, a family of my own, I was working 60hrs a week in a small country town. A good breeding ground for horses and cattle, perhaps, but not ideal for a young, single female GP.

And so, I chose the obvious solution – did what any overworked, lonely, newly Fellowed country GP would have done – I took four months off work – to do a reality TV show. It was the ABC’s Outback House, not A Farmer wants a wife, although in retrospect, the latter may have been more useful.

It was a life changing and meaningful experience – one that I would never ever do again, even if paid large sums of money– and certainly not a solution I would suggest to you. 😉

There are no easy answers, I’m afraid, but putting the effort into maintaining relationships and supports outside your local community (including online ones) is really important. As hard as it can be to do, I try to decide (together with the other person involved) whether they are going to be a (close) friend or a patient. I spend a good deal of time explaining why it isn’t beneficial to either of us to be both.

It does get easier!


5 thoughts on ““I want you to be my friend, not my patient” – social dilemmas for rural GPs.

  1. Great post, Genevieve. As a nearly 30, single, female, rurally bonded GP, one of my main concerns is the business of finding a decent bloke and building a family in the next few years. It certainly plays on my mind when thinking about where I might go to work next year. No answers yet, just lots of questions…. Feeling philosophical enough to let the universe do it’s work, though!

    • Thanks Penny, I know exactly how you feel – I too was a nearly 30, single, female. rurally-based registrar looking for a partner once upon a time. Don’t know that I did a good job of it – all I can say is that I wish you all the very best!


  2. Reblogged this on Dr Thinus' musings and commented:
    This is a real challenge and not only in a Rural setting. My wife and I are South Africa Expats and as a result our practice has a significant number of Afrikaans speaking expat patients who attend here. Guess who we socialize with and go to church with? So what does one do ? Do we tell our friends that the cannot become patients or our patients that they cannot become friends ? I know what the Medical Board would say but in the real world it is much harder to make the distinction. I was very lucky to be a happily married GP when we were in a South Australian Rural environment 13 years ago. We were in a town with 300 residents and it was impossible not to socialize with patients – every single person in the town and district was a patient of ours. I can only imagine the challenge I would have faced if I was a decade younger and single. I do understand why the Medical Boards have their rules but it is simply not a real world solution in some scenarios especially when the media and the movies often romanticizes the situations where a patient end up hooking up with the handsome/sexy single doctor

  3. Pingback: All That Glitters Is Not Gold | Nomadic GP

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