A Fortunate Woman - Polly Morland

This is a beautiful book – whether you are looking to rekindle your love for your career or just want an engrossing and enjoyable read, you will find joy in Polly Morland’s book. The initial inspiration for this account was a battered copy of A Fortunate Man, that classic of the late 1960’s by John Berger, which Polly Morland discovered when clearing out her mother’s house. That book, a portrayal of a rural GP and the community he served, is beautifully illustrated with pictures of the landscape in which it is set – and which Polly recognised as home.

What followed was a year spent talking and walking with the doctor who now runs the practice in that valley, resulting in a new portrait of rural general practice in the 21st century, during a pandemic. It includes fresh photos of the landscape, and also of the patients and the doctor (complete with Covid masks and aprons) by Richard Baker. Like all skilful medical books, it weaves in patient stories, melded and disguised to preserve confidentiality but nevertheless retaining their essential truth and fascination. But it is much more than just a collection of stories, it is a meditation on what it means to be a doctor and the centrality of the relationship with the patient to successful and satisfying general practice. This is a book about trust and belonging – the doctor belongs in her valley and to her community, they know her, respect her and rely on her.

Not every patient is lucky enough to have this continuity of care with their GP, and indeed many of the changes to primary care since A Fortunate Man was written, and especially in the last twenty years, seem almost designed to engineer continuity out of the role. This book reminds us of the value of these relationships built over time, when the doctor doesn’t need to ask the family history because she already knows the family. It is highly recommended reading for anyone contemplating a career in medicine, and especially for those destined for general practice. I would also like to press it urgently on anyone involved with designing health services; this is not a nostalgic look back at old fashioned general practice but a picture of contemporary primary care at its best, and a warning of what we risk losing if we chose not to value it.

Reviewed by Dr Helen Salisbury