At a careers networking event at school, I met a GP, Dr Rachel Elliott, who very generously gave me the opportunity to spend a day shadowing her at her surgery in Porchester. Having only ever before been with a GP as a patient, I found it very interesting seeing things from a doctor’s perspective. Often perhaps as important as medical care are inter-personal skills: patients may not heed a doctor’s advice if they have a poor relationship. Moreover, it seems to me that being able to dissemble can a useful skill in general practice. In shadowing doctors, I could see how patients can sometimes be a little frustrating, and it can be hard always to empathise entirely with them; however, this was not evident once while I was shadowing Dr Elliott, who remained calm, empathetic, and attentive throughout.
I also spoke to Dr Elliott in some detail about the difference between illness and disease. In 1978, Eric Cassell summarised that: “Disease, then, is something an organ has; illness is something a man has.” Disease is the abnormal condition affecting someone, whereas illness includes the psychological manifestations that are usually caused by the disease. Dr Elliott explained to me that she usually deals with illnesses, and has some regular patients who have little physically wrong with them, but suffer from just as important loneliness, anxiety, or psychosomatic symptoms.