“I think the best part of my job is the gradual evolution of my relationship with my patients where you start out as strangers but then grow to appreciate the complexities of who they are. 

“I had the privilege of seeing an extremely loving couple, P and D for the last four years and they always saw me together. P had cancer and I told them amidst tears, two years ago, that he wouldn’t survive for much longer and that they should enjoy their moments together to the fullest. Two Christmases and a couple of cruises later, P succumbed to the illness after a long fight. I got to visit him at home before he died and thanked him for the privilege of caring for him. I then got to certify his death and see him all dressed up and looking dapper in his blue wedding suit. I cried with D when she came to see me after he passed and now will journey onwards with her. This can only happen in general practice and it’s the reason why I love my job.”

Those are the words of Dr Suhasini (Su) Pothina who was nominated in a competition for World Family Doctor Day on the College’s Facebook page as an outstanding GP. Our GP Pulse editor interviewed Dr Pothina to find out where her magic came from…

Dr Pothina can trace the doctors in her family back to the royal physicians for the Vizianagaram Empire (est 1336) in the south of India. Her father and maternal uncles are doctors, as was her grandfather and a couple of cousins. She made the decision to study medicine at age five. 

Years later she treated another shy five-year-old dressed in a Spiderman costume. Trying to engage with him about superheroes, Dr Pothina asked if he could bring Batman to visit the next time. “He looked up at his Mum then turned to me with utter gravity and said, ‘I’m just pretending to be Spiderman.’”

“I like people and I like medicine and I think you get the best possible combination of this in general practice. I once had a GP tell me that in hospital medicine, we get just a snapshot of people’s lives but in general practice we get to see the whole video,” says Su.

Dr Pothina considered specialising in internal medicine, pediatrics, emergency medicine, and urgent care and had a spreadsheet comparing all the specialities before opting for general practice. 

“I’m grateful for the counsel I received from senior doctors and family in helping me make my decision,” she says.

You could say that family have shaped the course of her life. “My dad was also a doctor and his clinic operated out of a building attached to our house, so we all chipped in to help when needed. I watched my dad see patients and would often see people walk out of his office feeling better without even starting their treatment. I realised how therapeutic even interacting with a doctor could be and always wanted to be like him.

“Dad often used us to hold equipment for him or to talk to patients to distract them while he was doing procedures and as a teenager, I definitely enjoyed getting paid by him for this. I also accompanied him on visits to villages or tribal regions when he ran free medical camps and really enjoyed the experience of helping people who had very minimal medical access.

“As GPs we get to hear the stories of people’s lives and we have the privilege of journeying with them through childhood, adolescence, adulthood, work life, marriage, fertility, pregnancy, parenthood, empty nest, retirement and death. 

“I am passionate about the centrality of the role GPs play in the health care system and ensuring that we continue to be an attractive and sustainable workforce.

“I’m very passionate about holistic comprehensive care. I enjoy being able to tease out the relevant information to arrive at a diagnosis and get the right treatment started, but I also value being able to deduce what preventative care is needed, what long-term support patients might require, how their family and work dynamics are affected by their ill health and how we can assist them in achieving their goals.

“The dreamer in me hopes that in 50 years’ time we’ll have fully funded primary care where finances will never be a barrier for people seeking care and where general practitioners are treated equal to their secondary care colleagues.

“The realist in me sees a lot more artificial intelligence being used to improve access to patients - but the optimist in me hopes that general practice can continue to be centred around gradually building a trusting therapeutic relationship with our patients which I believe is vital to the comprehensive care we provide.”

Dr Pothina gained her medical degree from the Pavlov First State Medical University of St. Petersburg in Russia and became a Fellow of the College in January 2019. She’s worked at Whakatane Hospital, Palmerston North Hospital and The Palms in Palmerston North before taking her current position at Kauri Healthcare. She’s also volunteered in India, the Philippines, and Vanuatu.