“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!