I graduated from Edinburgh University, with my medical degree, in 1978. The next four years were my foundational training to become a General Practitioner (I still think “Family doctor” is a nicer title).
Here’s four of the core teachings which I received.
Don’t practice “a pill for every ill”.
There was an assumption that drugs should only be prescribed if you thought they were really necessary. If you issued a prescription at the end of every consultation you weren’t practising good medicine.
Underlying this teaching was to prescribe as sparingly as possible.
If you refer your patient to a man with a knife, he’ll use it.
There were two aspects to this teaching – firstly, that you shouldn’t refer a patient to a hospital consultant unless you expected that doctor to treat the patient with their particular specialist skills. Secondly, a specialist was likely to try to treat your patient using only the particular specialist skills they had.
Underlying this teaching was to refer to secondary care as sparingly as possible.
Don’t arrange an investigation/test unless you think the results are likely to change what you otherwise propose to do.
I was taught that most diagnoses could be made on the basis of a good medical history supplemented with relevant clinical examination. Tests were only for when you couldn’t do that.
Underlying this teaching was to test as sparingly as possible.
The doctor is the drug.
This was a big one. Back in the 1980s Balint’s teaching still influenced General Practice, and Balint proposed that one of the most powerful therapies a doctor could offer was him or herself. The doctor-patient relationship was the most important part of therapy. Active listening, understanding, compassion, care and good communication were the core daily tools, employed with a sound knowledge of the natural history of diseases, the risks and harms of various potential treatments, and the ability to help patients to understand what they were experiencing, what this illness meant in their lives, and what they might do cope and to become well.
Underlying this teaching was to pay as much attention to, and to spend as much time with, each and every patient as was possible.