"A desire 'to know how things work' can take a kid down many different career paths"

College news
7 August 2018

A desire 'to know how things work' can take a kid down many different career paths.

But for Hutt GP Sonja Bodley it was always going to be medicine.

Despite a lack of any family medical background, Sonja 'can't remember wanting to do anything else'.

After high school in Te Puke, Sonja graduated from Otago Medical School in 2001 with the firm intention of becoming a plastic surgeon.

A fifth-year lecture on the subject had made her realise 'it was about so much more than liposuction and nose jobs and I immediately thought "that's what I want to do".

The plastic surgery registrar learnt her craft at Hutt Hospital, assisting in a wide range of surgeries including post- cancer breast reconstruction and head and neck reconstructions.

Despite having trained in plastic surgery, Sonja decided to move into general practice when her 'three little people' arrived: her daughters who are now aged 11, 9 and 6.

And while it may not have been her original choice, Sonja has become an ardent advocate of the profession - to the point of writing a poem ('Just a GP', published below) emphasising its equal footing with other specialities.

"The poem is about the perception that people end up as GPs because they're not capable of doing anything else".


"I wrote it after a particularly frustrating phone call to the hospital trying to get a patient seen," she recalls.

"Something that should have been extremely straightforward actually required numerous phone calls and despite my experience in this area I wasn't being taken seriously simply because I was "just a GP".

After enrolling in the General Practice Education Programme in 2011, Sonja started work at Ropata Medical Centre in Lower Hutt and was soon taking on minor surgery procedures referred to her by other GPs and specialists.

In the practice's minor surgery theatre her work included the removal of skin cancers and non-cancerous and various lumps and bumps.

In 2016 Sonja achieved her College Fellowship and today she divides her time between her own private clinic one day a week, locum work for The Skin Institute in Wellington and general practice.

Despite the workload Sonja manages to organise her time so she can send her daughters off to school in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon

"That flexibility was one of the reasons I went into general practice and I value it greatly," she says.

"Just a GP"

"Just a GP" wanted to be a Doctor since childhood and daydreamed what it would be like to save lives

"Just a GP" sat next to you on the first day of med school full of hopes and dreams and excited for what the future held.

"Just a GP" stood next to you during dissection lab with a mix of horror and awe as we took our first steps into the medical world.

"Just a GP" sat next to you during final exams hoping and praying we had done enough and thinking perhaps less partying would have been a good idea!

"Just a GP" stood next to you the first day as a house surgeon - totally naive and pretending it was all fine when really you were shit scared.

"Just a GP" did that resus with you of the elderly lady that had fought cancer for your entire rotation - you remember how we sat in the med cupboard crying so nobody would see us?

"Just a GP" applied for advanced training with you and we jumped up and down and hugged because we got in!!!

"Just a GP" did many nights alongside you - do you remember going to our tradition of having a huge breakfast to celebrate the end of a set of nights?

"Just a GP" had some twists and turns in life and decided to leave the hospital and go into the world of primary care.

"Just a GP" had to do exams and learning but made some great friendships along the way. I bet you did too.

"Just a GP" works hard everyday - listening to people's complaints and trying to find how to help them the best way possible. I bet you do too.

"Just a GP" routinely has to weigh up the cost of a test compared to the benefit it may bring. I bet you do too.

"Just a GP" worries if the diagnosis they made today was correct and what will happen if they're wrong. I bet you do too.

So are we really that different you and I? The public thinks we are. Patients think we are. Your junior staff think we are. But do you too?

We used to be a great team you and I. We used to stand beside each other fighting the good fight! We used to listen to each other. We had respect for each other didn't we??

.... but now I have to speak with your junior staff member to get my patients seen.... I have to justify myself to someone with 1/4 of my experience... and I can see the eye rolling through the phone about "just a GP" referring again.

But what if...

What if we went back to being that great team again?

What if we went back to when we were equal and respected each other?

What if we went back to when we both wanted the same things - healthy and happy patients.

But how do we get there?

Let's start with one simple step.... stop calling me "just a GP"

I want the same thing as you.

I work towards the same goals.

I have the same fears and concerns.

I am many things to many people, a daughter, a parent, a friend and I'm your colleague.

But I am not and will never be "Just a GP".

Dr Sonja Bodley