The secret to building a strong GP patient base in Australia
Advice from a General Practitioner
Doctor Stories
July 1, 2020

This post first appeared in 2016.

Dr Maha Selvanathan is a General Practitioner based in New South Wales, Australia.  

Medworld talked to Dr Maha about her Top Tips for New General Practitioners in 2016, after her Facebook post on the subject went viral.

She wrote the post after frequently receiving messages from newly qualified General Practitioners, worrying about how they’d fare in their new roles and asking how to build a strong client base.  

Dr Maha grew up in Malaysia, and as a young girl, she wanted to become a doctor so that she could help people. But her father couldn’t afford the school fees, so he suggested she become a hairdresser or work in a beauty salon instead. Still determined to become a doctor, at the age of 18 Maha ran to the local minister early one morning and pleaded for the opportunity to be sent on a scholarship so she could eventually study medicine.

Her wish was granted and she went on to study medicine in Russia. Her father worked overtime and broke into his super funds to help cover the costs.                      

Dr Maha found it hard to be taken seriously by her mentoring doctors. It quickly became clear during her internship that Russian graduates were often badly treated; bullying and name calling happened routinely. Once, three slides into a presentation, Dr Maha’s boss told her to give up, quit medicine and get married.  

Determined to practice medicine and help people, Dr Maha has overcome a lot of obstacles. It’s this determination and her success which makes her so passionate about supporting newly qualified doctors to become great GPs, serving their communities.

Here’s her original Facebook post, which still holds true for any GP aspiring to be better and do better in their communities.

"love your job and don’t chase money"

How to build a strong GP client base in Australia 

To each and every GP starting out my advice is simple; love your job and don’t chase money.  

My belief is that money will come if you are a good doctor. By good doctor I mean being a humble, simple doctor with the aim to do what General Practitioners do best, serve their community.

My appointment books are almost fully booked, and patients always return to see me. When people ask me why, my answer is simple; I laugh with my patients. I listen to them. I take my time with them and don’t worry about them taking their time in my appointments. I don’t cut in to speed up the conversation.

My goals are simple. I own my community’s wellbeing. My typical patients are females which is great because in my area there are only a few female GPs and I feel really confident in dealing with female patients.

I work hard to push and educate my patients on the importance of having the right heath checks and screening, and make a habit of personally calling my patients to ensure their tests are up to date.

I also make sure I’m nice to and with work with my pharma reps who in turn provide me with educational materials that so I can provide written advice in different languages to patients whom English is not their first language.

My belief is that GPs need to take time to understand their community, for example there is a high rate of chlamydia where I am because it is a small community, so when it comes to buying contraceptives people feel embarrassed that someone will see them or inform their parents. I recently had a chlamydia patient who was only fourteen years old, so felt I needed to do something about this. As a result, I’m now arranging to do voluntary visits in local schools and do talks on this subject.  

I also take time to make sure I’m looking after my own wellbeing too, as I’ve seen too many of my colleagues burn-out which means they simply cannot operate at the level required to give the best care to their patients. Like all doctors I’ve been there, but I make sure I never work more than six days in a row anymore and always make time to enjoy being with my husband at the weekend.  

The final thing I always say to GPs looking to get work in a DWS area is this; being a GP is different from being a hospital doctor. There is a need for continuity of care, so what you do and how you interact with your patients can serve you well for many years.  

And remember there is no better blessing than helping people and servicing your community so love what you do – you’re exceptional!

Do you know what makes a great GP? We’d love to hear from any doctors who have ideas on how to make the industry better. Get in touch via

Article by
Dr Maha Selvanathan

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