May the Vause be with you


May the Vause be with you

Jim Vause

Jim Vause


Preparing to give up his practice in Blenheim, GP Jim Vause contemplates his job prospects on the general practice market

I’m going to be out on the street soon, in five months to be exact, once I’ve done my time. No longer will I be gainfully employed. I will be a free agent, tied no more to the purse strings of a practice I have owned since 1986, a tie also strongly emotional. My baby has left me and I it.

After a sojourn to lands far away, I will return to an uncertain future, forced to ply my attributes on an open market, to declare to all and sundry what I am, what I have been and what I might be. Yes, I will be going where no Vause has gone before, etc etc etc.

It will be interesting to have a shoe on the other foot or possibly just uncomfortable given my predilection for putting my normal foot in my oral cavity, but I do wonder how a prospective employer might look at me.

While my employment history as a GP may be long, it isn’t exactly much when I compare it with some of the doctors I have employed of recent times. Being stuck in one job for 31 years might lead a sane employer to conclude that either I am very boring or I am a Luddite from a bygone era of medicine.

Who bothers with references now?

But how does a practice owner, or manager or whoever, appraise what this bloke is like? What meaningful measures are there for evaluating a prospective GP, for long gone are the IPA days of actual GP performance measurement, when I could compare, however meaninglessly, my prescribing or lab ordering against that of a colleague. Now about all I ever see is a patient satisfaction survey that tells me nothing that isn’t bloomingly obvious.

As for stuff that might be important to a manager, like, will this doctor make you money, that is of course tied up in practice databases and, as we know from the latest NZ Journal of Primary Care, there is no metric in common use to make a meaningful comparison between GPs.

Nevertheless, there is that the old favourite, the reference. Not a piece of paper saying, “Joe’s a great bloke, plays rugger, knows how to get on with the boys and is a Wellington College Old Boy.”

Rather, it’s the phone call that in the modern world remains the true and trusted information source, so long as you can trust the person on the other end of the line, that they actually have employed or worked, rather than drunk with, the candidate and they know what’s a good doctor and a good team player.

Over the years, I’ve employed a fair few doctors. The majority have been great. A few, not so. I have rung plenty of referees and use the grape and kumara vines of friends I trust to give me useful information on many, as opposed to the specious prolixity of more formal channels. The old “Not what you know, rather who you know” principle.

But why have I only ever been contacted three times concerning a GP who has worked in my practice? Why has no one ever rung me to learn about the dos and don’ts of their new GP, especially the ones who have left unwanted? What’s up, besides professional blinkers?

There’s a very obvious reason why prospective GP employers don’t do this, the 69 GP vacancies on the RNZCGP Classified website being testimony to this. Beggars cannot be choosers, but surely we are a profession, we are collegial, and we are willing to share the knowledge and understanding that practices develop with their doctors in order for all to learn and improve? Now that would be real CQI.