Specialists urged to curb ‘toxic’ comments about GPs


By Michael Woodhead

28 Feb 2024

Hospital-based specialists have been urged not to disparage general practice, following reports that doctors in training are being deterred from specialising in primary care after hearing negative opinions about primary care physicians from staff on the wards.

Dr Michael Page, President of the AMA (WA) branch, said a recent workshop had highlighted the problem of disrespect for GPs in attracting medical students and doctors in training to specialise in general practice.

He noted that one intern who spoke at the workshop “described her disappointment at hearing negative, ill-informed, offhand remarks on the wards relating to GP, and to students and doctors in training who express interest in training in GP.

“We have all heard, and many of us have probably been guilty of making, negative remarks about one another’s specialties,” said Dr Page in a statement released by AMA (WA) on 23 February.

While some comments about specialty stereotypes were light hearted and harmless, others could be regarded as unprofessional, insulting and causing reputational harm,” he said.

“There is no hard-and-fast rule about what types of generalisations are valid, funny, or empathetic, and which are offensive; but if a target group feels that a particular characterisation is unhelpful or demeaning, it has clearly crossed a line,” said Dr Page, a specialist pathologist.

Dr Page said the disparaging remarks about primary care added to the ongoing crisis in GP recruitment and retainment.

“It’s no secret that interest in GP training needs to be significantly boosted if our primary care workforce is to keep up with the increasing number, age and complexity of patients. The alternative is lower-quality care in the community, worse health outcomes and even greater pressure on the hospital system,” he said.

“There is a need for the medical profession to share more positive ideas about general practice, as well as improving GP placement experiences for students and DITs, to show “what a wonderful, varied and challenging career it can be, and how much difference they can make in the lives of their patients.”

But such efforts risk being undermined by the “toxic” remarks made by some medical colleagues, he warned.

“A few years ago there was a discourse on restoring civility in medicine, which had eroded over several decades. This impetus seems to have been lost, perhaps with the intervention of a pandemic,” said Dr Page.

“We must think about the language we use and the assumptions we make when we stereotype our colleagues. What we say about one another can ripple across the system, causing toxicity and destroying trust. We are all on the same team, and we all deserve the same respect.”

Already a member?

Login to keep reading.

Email me a login link