Rural Round-up : Peter Sloane writes on being young and rural

This month Peter Sloane who is the newly elected chair of the WONCA Europe's movement for young doctors, the Vasco da Gama movement, writes about being a rural GP (and a young GP) in Ireland.

Being a New Rural Family Doctor in Ireland and Europe

During the summer of 2014 I had the great privilege and honour of being elected as Chairperson of the Vasco da Gama Movement. VdGM is a diverse group of new and future European GPs which includes GPs and Family Medicine trainees working in rural practice. Whilst I may be the Chair, I too am also first and foremost a Family Doctor, who during the last 2 ½ years since qualifying as a GP has done Locum work, mostly in rural parts of the West of Ireland.

My personal passion for rural practice developed during my GP training when I spent a year working in a rural practice in a village called Crossmolina in North County Mayo. There I met elderly people living alone well into their 80s in poor quality very isolated housing with few or no social supports. A visit from the GP meant much more than simply seeing the doctor and I gained first hand understanding of the pivotal role of the Family Doctor within isolated, rural and socially deprived communities in the West of Ireland. I have also seen at first hand the vast distances over which the patients of these rural practices are spread, sometimes living up to one hour’s drive from their GP. With colleagues working on and looking after island patients, I have also gained a detailed understanding of the financial and resource challenges which Irish GPs face in looking after a population of rural patients.

And yet, despite the challenges, it seems to me that rural Irish patients are more forgiving, more tolerant, less demanding and generally more appreciative of their Family Doctor than urban counterparts.

While rural practice in Ireland may feel rural to us, compared to the situation in other parts of Europe and in the global context generally, no one in Ireland is actually that rural. The great beauty of VdGM and through VdGM the linkages with the other global WONCA young doctor movements such as AfriWon Renaissance, the Spice Route and the Rajakumar Movement is that we have a reference point against which to appreciate and understand the diversity of rural practice around the world. And therein lies the importance of groups such as the WWPRP (WONCA Working Party on Rural Practice) which provides a platform for those working in and with a passion for rural Family Medicine to appreciate the sheer diversity and range of challenges that exist globally within rural General Practice.