Of all my roles, being a coal-face GP is the best

by Julie Keely

Listening to and treating patients on a one to one level has been the most rewarding aspect of one GP's career

Location: Wales
Last reviewed: 8 April 2022
Julie keely

I am Julie Keely a GP of thirty years standing, who remains as enthusiastic and motivated now as when I started medical school in 1987.

It is a privilege to do what I do, to work with lovely colleagues and patients and have a chance to make a difference.

It was strange to many that I chose to become a doctor as I had no medical connections in my family. At the age of four, I witnessed our family doctor, Marie, treat my little sister, aged about 10 months for a febrile seizure as she had a kidney infection and a high fever.

My four-year-old self was amazed; full of admiration. I wanted to be that woman, who acted competently, kindly, calmly, and efficiently in managing this emergency. To me, she had it all. She had a great job, helped others, and had five children, as well as her own career. I set out to be her.

Fortunately, I liked school and learning and did well in my exams. I got a place in medical school in Galway at the National University of Ireland. The course was fascinating and held my interest, and I was lucky to enjoy my studies and pass all my exams. I graduated in 1987 and completed my internship, as it was called back then, foundation year 1 nowadays. I applied for a GP training scheme and was not appointed.

There were 150 doctors applying for four places – all of which were offered to candidates with medical connections. I remained undeterred and I did some hospital posts in Ireland in obstetrics and gynaecology, accident and emergency and paediatrics. I was disappointed by the setback of not getting a structured rotation but decided to organise my own rotation to complete my training.

I met my lovely husband Sean in Galway when we were both students and we have been married for many years now. We came to the UK, and I completed my GP training near Cardiff and a hospital post in care of the elderly. I did GP locums in Ireland, which gave me insight into the challenges of problem solving, managing uncertainty and the unpredictability of what the day will bring.

My late father-in-law, Joe was a GP for 44 years before he died. He saw patients the day before he went into hospital for cardiac investigations and had a heart attack during them, which he sadly didn’t survive. He was a real inspiration to me as he was always curious. He always retained his sense of humour and made me laugh when he said his reason for setting aside time to study medical journals was essential as DNA was not invented when he was a student! He needed to keep up-to-date as things change and I have learned that lesson too.

My motivations to keep going and sustain my enthusiasm are manifold. I enjoy the variety, the unpredictability, and the opportunity to get to know my patients. To me, it is through knowing the person that facilitates the best care for them as an individual.

Medical advances make keeping up-to-date essential and, in my case, I have several roles in medical education – as well as my personal motivation to learn – as a medical student tutor, GP trainer and GP training scheme programme director, RCGP faculty chair, GP appraiser appraising peers in Wales. All of this helps me remain curious, keep up-to-date and learn from and with others. But, of all these roles, being a coal face GP is the best.

I have been fortunate to be able to be myself and have never been worried about how others view me. I have had comments made about my nationality but realise that once people get to know me, they accept me as I am.

Being a woman in medicine is simply that, a female doing the same job as any other colleague, something that has never concerned me. The real challenges in my life have been personal health issues. I had a bout of colitis treated with medication for two years when I was a medical student, which resolved. Eighteen years later, I developed a toxic megacolon, a serious complication of ulcerative colitis and had my large bowel removed.

Following four admissions to intensive care in one year and several operations, I was completely back to normal. Three years later, I was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour which required surgery. Thanks to clever colleagues in neurosurgery, I am still alive and able to do as much as always. I’m very fortunate and believe I’m still alive and well for a purpose, to carry on living my life and enjoying my work.

Looking back on my career, I would highly recommend medicine to anyone. It is a stimulating, fascinating, rewarding and a challenging way of life. General practice offers variety and flexibility regarding where we work, how much we work and what we choose to do as doctors, throughout a lifetime. Not many careers offer that opportunity and flexibility.

If I had to advise my younger self, it would be to go with the flow, wherever that may take you, view challenges and changes in circumstances as opportunities and realise that all experiences, both good and bad, are a learning opportunity. Having my supportive husband by my side, I have been able to take up opportunities.

My daughter who is now a mature medical student described what I do when she was eight. She said all GPs need to do is talk nicely to people and make them feel better (developing good communication skills is the technical term) and know the good websites where the best information is as things change (keeping up-to-date). I believe she was wise beyond her years, and she is completely right.

Julie Keely is a GP, medical student tutor, GP trainer and GP training scheme programme director, RCGP faculty chair and GP appraiser appraising peers in Wales