Role model: Rebecca FarringtonBMJ 2017; 359 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j5040 (Published 05 December 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;359:j5040
Anne Gulland speaks to Rebecca Farrington, GP and clinical lecturer at Manchester University, who works with asylum seekers and refugees
Rebecca Farrington nearly gave up medicine at the beginning of her career because she didn’t identify with the people around her. To avoid having to make a definitive decision she went travelling and ended up in New Zealand, where she did a couple of house jobs.
“Going travelling gave me a lot of confidence. I thought, I’m going to make this [career] work for me. Doing it on my terms and not other people’s was key,” she says.
Doing things on her terms has been an ongoing feature of Farrington’s career. She currently has three jobs: she does one session a week in a GP practice; she works as a senior clinical lecturer at Manchester University; and she works for an NHS project for asylum seekers and refugees.
This last job came about after the closure of the Horizon centre, a GP practice in Salford dedicated to refugees and asylum seekers, set up in 2004. It was put out to tender when primary care trusts were abolished in 2012 but, as it was non-profit making, no providers came forward.
Farrington says, “We were made redundant which was devastating. We had a great team and we were working really well with a challenging group of patients. It was politics—some saw us as mollycoddling people who were coming to this country and supposedly ‘draining’ our resources. Our patients were told to go and find a GP somewhere else,” she says.
Subsequently, Salford clinical commissioning group agreed to fund a service with Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust to which GPs can refer asylum seekers, but it is not perfect.
“Often, the people who manage to get referrals are the most articulate and assertive,” says Farrington. “There are just too many barriers for most forced migrants to overcome,” she says.
In her role, Farrington spends a lot of time diagnosing and explaining post-traumatic stress disorder, managing distress, and helping with legal matters.
“I also do a lot of education around asylum seekers. I go to GP practices and do workshops—some practices are desperate for it and others aren’t. I’m like a dog with a bone—it’s one of my character traits,” she says.
Before settling in Salford, Farrington had moved a great deal, both in the UK and abroad. She spent two and a half years as a field doctor for the charity Médecins Sans Frontières, working in Liberia, South Sudan, and Thailand. She also worked in Afghanistan, in a camp for internally displaced people in the city of Herat. At the time Herat was under Taliban control and only men were able to visit the city’s clinic.
“We set up a women’s clinic with incredible female Afghan doctors but we had to run a men’s clinic as well—that’s the politics of getting access to vulnerable populations,” says Farrington.
Later she returned to the UK to finish her GP training but itchy feet led her to a job as a locum for the British Army in Germany.
“I had lots of preconceived ideas about the army but they looked after me very well and were incredibly thoughtful people. I thought it would be full of a certain type of person with fixed ideas, but I met a variety of people with many different motivations for joining up,” she says.
The experience also gave her insight into the lives of army families—something which she believes is at the heart of a GP’s role.
As a clinical lecturer at the medical school she is focused on encouraging students to consider a career in general practice, spurred on by a report by Health Education England which found that students perceive primary care as “lower status” than secondary care.1
“General practice is a fabulous career and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. As much as it’s stressful and frustrating, it’s never dull and it’s amazing to be part of people’s lives,” she says.
Nominated by Piyush Pushkar
“Rebecca has shown several cohorts of doctors how to engage in the academic world with precision and in the political arena with robustness. Most of all, she has inspired us to care for our patients, particularly the most vulnerable in society, with the great compassion that she devotes to hers.”
Piyush Pushkar, core trainee year 3 psychiatry trainee, Wellcome Trust fellow, co-chair of Medact Manchester