A Country Medical Student

It seems that people want to know what it’s like and how I’m surviving in rural GP. It’s difficult to put into words. Indeed, I have tried and people have looked bewildered.

It’s all very odd.

In the last twelve months, I’ve done my fair share of meandering around the remotest parts of western Scotland and my fair share of living in hospital accommodation. I’ve lived places where the shortest route to my flat has involved cutting across a helipad and places where travelling there from Glasgow on public transport has meant going via England. I’ve become distressingly familiar with the art of cooking with a temperamental oven and an NHS knife. I’ve learned what the itch under my skin feels like if I don’t leave the hospital grounds for too many days in a row and I stayed for four weeks last summer on an actual island.

My current state of being is weirder than all of those things put together.

If you will, imagine living in Peak Practice or The Archers or perhaps something written by James Heriott.

I was asked last week what a cottage hospital is. The definition is of a small rural hospital with less than 25 beds. In my admittedly limited experience, they tend to function as non-acute care hospitals and minor injuries units for areas that are inaccessibly far from the nearest DGH. They’re mostly found now in the far north and south of Scotland, and in certain areas of East Anglia and Devon and Cornwall. They seem these days not to have permanent medical staff of their own but to be looked after by the local GPs. It is one of these hospitals that I’ve been living in.

The strangest part is that I’m in the hospital. I’m not in a separate building or, as my family assumed when I first told them that this was where I’d be going, in some sort of nurses’ residence. I go in the front door, I walk past the day room and the treatment room and the ward, and I go up the stairs to my room. I am the only person who lives here — I thought for a little while that I might have neighbours living behind what look like more bedroom doors but then I found out that those are an office and a supply cupboard. My bathroom doubles as the staff changing room. My kitchen, and I use that word very loosely, doubles as the staff break room. I am woken not by my alarm clock but by the noise of the early shift clattering up my stairs.

I called Flatmate in a bit of a panic on my first night. “I’ve got no oven,” I said. “I have a microwave, but I can’t find any plates or cutlery. And there’s nowhere for me to do the washing up.” In the end, I ate curry out of a bowl with a teaspoon. The next day, I was told that the kitchen staff would look after me. And sure enough, I came in from evening surgery that night to find that they had left food out in the real kitchen for me to warm up. Of course, going downstairs for food means that after hours I can often be found wandering around the hospital proper in the middle of visiting time in jeans and socks and that too is very weird.

The rural part of rural GP is a different kind of odd. Foreign, maybe. I know that there are many who would disagree with me, but it was remarkably wonderful to get home on Friday and go running amongst the traffic and noise and pollution. I guess you can take the girl out of the city…



  1. There are still cottage hospitals in much of rural Wales too and I was very well cared for in our local one after a severe lung infection and asthma attack some years ago. I was looked after by my own GP and to my knowledge there weren’t any medical students living in the attic :-) I can well imagine the culture shock of working in one after living in Glasgow….

    • Ah, but one never knows if there are medical students living in the attic… :)

      I rather thought that rural Wales would be the other obvious area, but I didn’t know for sure. I only knew about East Anglia because my mum ended up in one about ten years ago.

  2. Hah! Imagining you in a Herriot novel. If you run across Tristan, do make see if you can snag him..

    Goodness, it does sound weird. At least someone is feeding you…!

    • Oh, yes. They’re looking after me very well.

      David makes the not unreasonable point that it sounds like I’m experiencing medicine as practiced through time (and space), so I may well run across someone who looks an awful lot like Tristan. :)

  3. “You can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t make her like living in a cottage hospital.”

    It sounds to me as if you’re moving between centuries, in all of your travels, experiencing medicine as practised across time more than across space.

    I find your adventures fascinating. Thanks for sharing them. :)

  4. Thanks for taking time to post such an evocative description of your experiences in rural GP! I’d love to read a play-by-play memoir. :-)

    • The play-by-play memoir of life in this particular practice has been written by one of the GPs here, who has published two books under the pseudonym Dr Ken B Moody.

      It’s a very different sort of life and a lot of fun, too. I want to write more about the things I’ve seen here, but rthat may have to wait until I’m not relying entirely on a smartphone for my Internet access. :)

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