Every Sunday I Stand-Up Paddleboard (SUP) on the beautiful river just down from my house.  Today as I was paddling, I was thinking about similarities between paddleboarding and the GP learning journey.

Paddling to the exam requires:

  • Planning – Do I have the right board and paddle?   Is the weather good?   Are there any  unforeseen dangers?
  • Dexterity and Balance – One hand or two to paddle?  Am I more stable with momentum? Do I position myself in a less balanced position to go faster (but risk falling off), or a more balanced position with less risk?  What will I do if I fall off?
  • Core strength – it takes practice and perseverance to keep the tummy tight and maintain the optimum leg positioning to ensure that you are stable.

Here are some reflections… (via video and transcribed below).

What a gorgeous day for a paddle.  I’m just reflecting as I come up to these beautiful trees, that a couple of months ago, this (the environment) was so dry, there were these massive big rocks all under those trees, and I couldn’t even make it up to the weir.  Now the water’s smooth – you can’t see the rocks.  The banks have changed too since the flood, lots of sand, lots of debris on the edges.  There’s a little headwind today too, which is good for a challenge, so I need to keep rowing, keep paddling, otherwise I’m not very stable and I certainly don’t want to fall off into the water, where I can see there’s some quite large eels, lots of Tilapia, and there are some ‘Freshies’ (Freshwater crocodiles) in there somewhere but I’m told they’re only small so that’s a good thing.!

I’m just thinking about this environment and how it’s a little bit like knowing your learning terrain in General Practice.

So when I first started paddling on this river, a little while ago (a couple of years actually), I didn’t just jump on the board and head down to the weir.  I got on my pushbike and did a little reconnaissance, and had a look as to where I might be able to ‘pull in’ should I fall off.   I also thought about how I might get back on my paddleboard, I hadn’t done that before.  I had a think about what to do if the usual Sunday rowers came along with their little speedboat coaches that inadvertently send their bow waves across the board, and how I might negotiate that.  But more importantly, thinking about the terrain.   Had I headed off into those big trees, I would have snapped my fin on the rocks, and fallen in, and it would have been in the middle of the river where I have nowhere to jump back onto.

I guess I see this a lot with Doctors that are approaching their exams – the weather looks good, they’ve got a new board, they’re a bit excited, they just jump on, start paddling, and often don’t think about what happens if they fall off?

What happens if the headwind is a bit too strong for them to keep going?

What happens if that speedboat comes along and knocks you off your board?

What if you haven’t thought to look where the big rocks are under the river?

So, why not ask?

It just astounds me the number of GPs sitting the exam that have a fabulous content knowledge, but haven’t taken enough time or appreciated how they can use that knowledge, to stay safe, and also to perhaps, think about what lies underneath that knowledge, and is it, thorough enough?

So perhaps measuring that knowledge against the curriculum so you know if there’s a couple of big obstacles underneath that you haven’t thought about – the big rock, the big tree branch. 

It’s not a path where you should learn to navigate it by having a few cracks at itthat can be physically, financially, emotionally exhausting.

So why not have a chat with someone that’s been down that path before?   Whether that’s another Registrar, another GP Trainee, another doctor in the practice.   If you’re struggling a bit with understanding the curriculum and what you need to know, ask someone with a bit more experience in Medical Education.

It’s meant to be an enjoyable journey, learning, and it needn’t be rushed and fraught with obstacles and things that you don’t expect and things that disappoint you.

It’s meant to be a more relaxed, enlightening and enjoyable journey to becoming a confident and competent GP.

And one last thought, headwinds are the pits, but, the challenge is worth it because, you know when you turn around, your headwind becomes a tailwind, and then you can almost effortlessly reach where you want to go and the ride is so much more enjoyable.

Paddelboarding requires individual effort, just like the RACGP exams, however, it can be fun to cruise along the river with other paddle-boarders.   You can also improve your technique with a coach.

There’s no need to make the GP learning journey alone.  There’s an Education AltasMAP, a GPS and a Compass that can help.

Please feel free to comment.

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