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Learning for life

Cate Swannell
Med J Aust
Published online: 20 July 2015

Dr Frank Jones has lived a general practitioner’s life and wouldn’t have it any other way. As president of the RACGP, he’s finding ways to show patients and doctors-in-training the benefits of a GP to lifelong health care

Dr Frank Jones, president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, is passionate about the front-and-centre role GPs have played and will continue to play in the long-term health of Australians.

It’s why he backed and launched the RACGP’s new awareness campaign “The good GP never stops learning” which hit television screens on 14 June.1

Featuring a male doctor providing cradle-to-grave care to one couple and their children, the advertisement has been criticised in some quarters for perpetuating an old model of general practice.

Australian Doctor recently interviewed two female Melbourne GPs who rejected promotional material sent to them by the RACGP in “frustration and anger”.

“The television ad reinforces an idealised, largely historical stereotype of having one GP — a kindly, middle-aged white male — for life. The [campaign the college] is undertaking is no doubt very costly. As long-term financial members of the college, we have an interest in where our subscription dollars are spent, and we feel strongly that the current campaign does not constitute value for money.”2

Dr Jones, however, is adamant the campaign is not only cost-effective, but vital to the College’s mission of advocating for a primary health care system in which GPs play a pivotal role.

“The feedback we’ve had from our members [about the Good GP campaign], in the vast majority, has been overwhelmingly positive”, Dr Jones tells the MJA.

“Yes, it encapsulates the traditional the cradle-to-grave model of a doctor. I know we have other models out there these days.

“People are more mobile themselves and may shift around from doctor to doctor.

“[All the international evidence tells us that] having a regular primary care GP reduces hospital admissions, reduces time spent in hospitals, improves patients’ expectations and improves patients’ experiences”, says Dr Jones.

“All that is not only good for the patients, it’s good for the health economy as well.”

General practice is a specialty in its own right, Dr Jones says, and it’s important for patients to be aware of all the skills their GP has.

“This is what’s behind the campaign”, he says. “We’re letting patients know that their GP is multiskilled — that he or she is the only expert in the whole body — looking after not just our physical and psychological health, but also our emotional health.

“This is raising the profile of general practice and what we can actually offer our communities.

“People may know their GP well but they may not understand the skill base that underlies being a GP.

“Yes, we need hospitals. Yes, we need specialists, absolutely. But you also need a coordinator of care — someone who can provide that continuity of care.”

Personal journey

Dr Jones’s personal journey as a physician began among the rolling green hills of Wales, took him to the red goldfields of Kalgoorlie in Western Australia with the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS), and then to Mandurah, then a small town, but now WA’s second largest town.

“My father was a veterinary surgeon”, Dr Jones tells the MJA. “He used to let me assist him with operations on cats and dogs, helping with the calving and lambing.”

Dr Jones completed his medical training in the United Kingdom before spotting a two-line advertisement in the British Medical Journal for doctors “looking for adventure”.

“That’s when I came to Kalgoorlie to work for the RFDS and I absolutely loved it and never wanted to go back”, he says.

These days, Dr Jones splits his time between his practice in Mandurah and his presidential duties at the RACGP’s headquarters overlooking the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

He took over the leadership from Dr Liz Marles in October 2014 and, while “life has certainly changed”, he still makes sure to keep seeing patients.

“That’s what keeps me grounded”, he says, “looking after patients and having quality outcomes for my patients”.

He has been involved in medical education, mentoring registrars as a GP supervisor in his practice as well as being an examiner for the RACGP, and for six years was chair of the College’s WA faculty.

“General practice has changed dramatically [since I began]”, Dr Jones says.

“The traditional ‘Dr Finlay’ model — coughs and colds — is not with us anymore.

“Because of our changing health demographics, our ageing population, complexity of care, and the increased number of subspecialties … sometimes you have to take a breath in and take a look at the whole person.

“And, really, your general practitioner is the person who can do that for you.

“I think it is a really special privilege to be a GP.

“I have delivered babies and then I’ve gone, 2 or 3 hours later, to provide palliative care for someone at the end of their life.

“Now, what other profession can offer you that? It’s an enormous privilege.”

Policy matters

Dr Jones is unequivocal on his views of policy matters currently in the headlines.

Take, for example, the Australian Border Force Act 2015 which came into effect on 21 May and now forbids those working in Australia’s detention centres, including doctors, from revealing information to anyone about anything they come across while doing their jobs, under threat of spending time in jail.

“A doctor’s first and foremost priority is with our patients”, Dr Jones says.

“We have to advocate on behalf of our patients. It’s at the heart of our Hippocratic oath.

“The people who are in detention centres, with the threat of their doctors not being able to speak out on their behalf … [it] is completely wrong.”

Domestic violence is also on the general practice agenda, and Dr Jones rates a GP’s communication skills as vital to alleviating the suffering of victims.

“The blessing that one has as a GP is to have that trust and empathy, building that relationship over time and getting to know your patient, knowing their context, knowing where they’re coming from”, he says.

“There are always hints — clinical hints and clues.

“These days, doctors are trained in communication skills and if we can’t communicate with our patients, then what’s it all about? What’s the point?”

It is, he says, not just a consultation, but also a conversation.

“The important person is the patient. It’s not about me; it’s not about the medical profession. It’s about the patient.

“It’s about having that journey, empowering that patient, making sure it’s about patient-centred care.”

Rural practice has been close to Dr Jones’s heart all his life.

“I’m biased”, he says. “I never wanted to be a city doctor. I wanted to be a part of my community.

“Maldistribution is a big, big problem, but it’s not just the doctors. It’s societal. It’s hard to get teachers and bank managers out to the country as well.

“I would encourage every young doctor to go and work in a rural area for 2, 3, 4, 5 years — it’s a fantastic experience.

“You can use all those skills you acquired during your hospital training.

“You’ll never look back.”

1. YouTube. The good GP never stops learning. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1enfFuOEfa0
2. Ozturk S. Doctors dump RACGP plaque over ad campaign. Australian Doctor. 2015; 25 Jun. http://www.australiandoctor.com.au/News/Latest-News/Doctors-dump-plaque-over-RACGP-ads

The full interview with Dr Frank Jones is available as a podcast at www.mja.com.au/multimedia/podcasts and from iTunes, and as a video from www.mja.com.au/multimedia

  • Cate Swannell


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