Like mother, like daughter: When general practice runs in the family

Doug Hendrie

20/09/2019 1:38:08 PM

Dr Marita Long had an especially proud moment when she watched her daughter Dr Ella Barclay gain her RACGP Fellowship last month.

Dr Ella Barclay and Dr Marita Long
Newly Fellowed GP Dr Ella Barclay and her mother, Dr Marita Long

Dr Ella Barclay had no intention of being a doctor.
Her best friend at medical school dreamed of being a doctor from kindergarten onwards. Not Dr Barclay.
‘That was not me. I never wanted to be a doctor. Watching Mum during her time as a hospital resident really put me off,’ she told newsGP.
But Dr Barclay has recently attained her Fellowship of the RACGP (FRACGP) – cheered on by her mother, Dr Marita Long, who is also a GP.
‘Mum has been my number-one support through the whole process, ever since starting med school,’ Dr Barclay said. ‘She understands what I’ve gone through, especially because she did it so recently.’
Her mum is proud as punch. 
‘I’m pretty darn proud of Ella. Not only because of all of her achievements, but because she is a kind, considerate and generous young woman,’ Dr Long told newsGP.
‘But it is nice she’s a GP. We can chat about different patients and cases. It’s nice having someone who’s family in the same field.’
Dr Barclay recalls her first contact with general practice when her mum began her training.
‘Mum became a GP when I was in second year of med school,’ she said. ‘She did her two years in hospitals, a year in paediatrics, and then general practice.
‘The hospital years seemed to be a really stressful time. Then she moved to general practice and she was just so different. Sure, she struggled to begin with but ended up really loving it.’
Dr Long’s move into medicine came after two decades as a paediatric nurse.
‘I … started medicine at 36. I never ever thought I’d be a doctor,’ she said.
‘I had a dad who was an obstetrician and I never saw him. He rarely took time off and was often tired or cranky. So I never had an interest.’
But after the family moved to Tasmania and Dr Long found herself in a much smaller hospital, she began thinking it was time for a change. 
‘I thought I’d go back to uni and I saw an ad saying that regional areas were desperate for doctors, that you could get a scholarship. I thought, “Hey, that’d be pretty cool”,’ she said. ‘I had to go back and do Year 12 physics, since I didn’t do that at school. Then I got into medicine, and the rest is history.
‘I always thought I’d be a GP, since I worked in communities as a maternal and child health nurse.
‘Once I started, it dawned on me, “This is exactly what I was looking for”.
‘As a nurse, you get to know your patients really well, but not always the medicine behind it. I could tell if a patient was really unwell but not exactly why, which left me dependent on doctors.
‘I thought being a doctor would be great, since I’d know patients really well and medicine really well. But I found as a hospital doctor that you don’t get to know the patients at all, though you do get to know the medicine.
‘As a GP, you get to know both the patients and the medicine really well. It’s a no brainer. There’s that beautiful continuity of care.’

Dr Barclay was sold on general practice after a placement in a rural part of Tasmania.
‘That was when I got to feel what it was like to be part of a community. We were there for three weeks and got do to everything,’ she explained. ‘We really got into everything the owners – a husband-and-wife duo – were doing in the community.’
But it wasn’t all roses straight away.
‘I wouldn’t say the transition to general practice was easy. In fact, I found it really difficult,’ Dr Barclay said.
‘I wasn’t used to being in a room on my own. I was used to being on a team in hospitals. But I was lucky in my first practice in Brisbane, because that had a real team environment.
‘Now I’m finding that general practice is something you grow into. It’s a completely different type of medicine to what you experience in a hospital.
‘I can see myself growing to love it more and more, because what I love about it now – even after just starting – is the ability to look after generations. Already, I can see a grandmother, her daughter, and her children, and see them through their struggles and triumphs.’
Watching her daughter go through medicine wasn’t always easy for Dr Long.
‘As we all know, the training isn’t easy. Ella had a few times where it got really challenging. But I think she thought if I could do it while I had three kids, it had to be possible,’ she said.
‘I do think though that she had it a little harder in some ways. When you’re a sensitive, smart young woman, the training can be a little bit harder.
‘Medical people can often be highly strung, perfectionist personalities. I know that Ella had very high expectations of herself and what she would achieve. And that how everyone else viewed her was different to how she viewed herself. Anyone who has worked with her has had glowing reports of her. But she found some aspects really tough. 
‘For me, because I was mature and had more life experience, I could balance it and it was probably a little bit easier. I wasn’t as worried about uncertainty, about not knowing.’
Seeing Dr Barclay and her cohort navigate the long road has made Dr Long wonder about how medicine is taught.
‘We train young doctors to fix things. Here’s the disease, here’s the tablet or surgery. Here’s the pathology, here’s the procedure. You’re fixing and curing things. But as you get into the work, you realise that’s actually a very small part,’ she said.
‘There are so many things which are unfixable or incurable. Sometimes, a patient can make changes themselves, but that’s up to them.
‘For young doctors, I think that part can be really hard. Because I’d worked in acute care as a nurse, I’d had to make that transition earlier. I’d had to learn to sit with unfixable issues.
‘But I do wonder – it’s been plaguing my brain – whether that’s one reason why many registrars find the reality of medicine so challenging, and why so many are really dissatisfied after so much work and sacrifice.
‘Something in our training definitely has to change, so expectations are more realistic as to what you’re actually doing as a doctor.  
‘You know, it’s not uncommon amongst GPs to have that sense that you’ve failed by doing general practice. That’s another thing that really has to turn around. The way I look at it is different. When you see specialists in hospitals, they’re focusing on one tiny bit of the patient.
‘For us, we are actually the big-picture people. We’re seen as having the least impact on patients – but we often have the most.’

community continuity of care general practice

newsGP weekly poll Do you think you will be privately billing more or fewer patients in 12 months’ time?

newsGP weekly poll Do you think you will be privately billing more or fewer patients in 12 months’ time?



Login to comment

Toby Gardner   21/09/2019 7:30:01 AM

Congratulations Ella, what a great story! So glad that you’ve pursued a career in General Practice. There’s always work for you in Tassie if you ever return!

Wayne   21/09/2019 8:26:13 AM

An inspiring story with insightful summation of general practice. A country that has robust well supported general practice is a healthy nation! Let’s stop pouring money the majority of the nations money into hospitals as that only ends in depreciating returns.

Dr Jitendra Natverlal Parikh   21/09/2019 9:35:09 AM

Great achievement
There are many silent achievers like this who will love to be recognised
I know many medical families like that and it is a great continuity of care if we call it that way
Again congratulations to this and silent achevers in all field of medicine and other profession

Abby Rundle   21/09/2019 10:43:56 AM

Two wonderful GPs! Fantastic story. 100% agree Marita with the comments on us teaching our students and junior doctors to ‘fix’ things. We need to educate better on dealing with uncertainty and educating our patients on the fact that we can’t necessarily eliminate their symptoms and disease, but we can improve things and support them through the process,

Joel Robinson   21/09/2019 11:24:40 AM

Well done Ella so so so proud of you. Doing medicine is a tough gig that’s for sure. Well done on your achievement.

Dr Suanu Lekia de Jong   21/09/2019 3:05:22 PM

Uplifting story! Congratulations Ella !! Inspirational story Marita ; amazing role model to many young and mature.

Dr Emerentiana Margaret Hennell   21/09/2019 5:29:22 PM

What a lovely story and great words of wisdom.

Wendy Vanselow   23/09/2019 1:49:09 PM

Congratulations Ella and Marita!

Dr Surendar Kumar Advani   28/09/2019 10:09:12 AM

Congratulations Ella and Marita!

Nima Patel   28/09/2019 11:33:54 AM

Congrats to both mum and daughter -what a beautiful story and I will make sure my daughter has read this too. My daughter is in her 1st year of GP training -currently in hospital and is dying to come out and be a GP despite being told by her colleagues in the hospital that she has no ambition except to treat coughs and colds and could do better than that . What a narrowed minded opinion hospital doctors have of GPs. As GPs we need to improve our image in the eyes of ED and Hospital Doctors and the community , by sending good referrals and expressingour clinical opinion because it seems according to my daughter that the referrals are so brief that the hospital doctors think GPs are clinically below their standards which is totally incorrect We need to set better examples to encourage more hospital doctors to think how good GP work is and how clever we are and they can be too, outside hospital.

Neville Ludbey   29/09/2019 9:02:05 PM

Congratulations Ella and Marita! My last day as a GP tomorrow after 50 years - good to see dedicated people keeping the parade going. May you have as rewarding an experience as I have had from my career.