Brief Encounters: Dr Jane Roberts
The RCGP clinical champion for youth mental health talks about the limitations to improving the population’s health, NEETs and piercings in strange places
Location Middlesborough, County Durham, and London
Role GP, academic GP, and RCGP youth mental health clinical champion
What’s the best thing about your role?
Being able to communicate to 46, 000 GP members of the College that young people’s mental health matters and we are well placed to make a difference.
What was your ‘big break’ in your role?
Speaking at College Conference.
What’s the hardest thing about combining your role with a career in general practice?
Juggling the demands of staying up-to-date in practice and keeping ahead of new work in my specialist area of interest.
What’s the most common assumption GPs make about your role?
That I have a secretary (I don’t).
How would your patients describe you?
A good listener and ‘someone who cares’.
What have you given up to have a career as a GP?
I think it’s much more about what we have gained, we are enormously privileged and although we work hard we reap many rewards - in satisfaction, professional autonomy, income, ‘making a difference’.
What one trait do you most deplore in your colleagues?
I think we have to guard against cynicism, which is the death knell to compassion.
Name one living person who inspires you.
Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder and director of Kids Company.
What keeps you up at night?
Concern about our young people and how difficult life has become for so many who do not have the advantages the children of professional parents have.
I live in Middlesbrough where 34% of children and young people live in poverty and 11.8% of 16-18 year olds are Not in Employment, Education or Training (NEET), equal to the worst finding for the whole of the UK. In other parts of the country rates for young people who are ‘NEETs’ vary markedly according to ethnicity with young black men consistently twice as likely to be unemployed as their white counterparts (ONS data) . This has huge implications for black youth’s mental health.
How would you like be to remembered?
As a practising GP who showed compassion and humanity in her work and who treated patients with respect and kindness.
Have you ever had to apologise to a patient?
Yes. Consultations are a human endeavour and we are bound to get things wrong.
What’s the most common advice you give patients?
Physical exercise/activity is a fantastic stress buster with few side effects.
What’s the best piece of advice your GP trainer gave you?
Reduce the distance between you and your patient - he used no desk, wore a black T-shirt as ‘a uniform’ and always sat opposite to, or near to, his patient.
If you weren’t a medic, what would you like to do for a living?
Write, or be a social anthropologist or an explorer.
How much are you motivated by money?
Money gives us security and as doctors we are extremely well paid compared to vast swathes of the population. It has never been my driver – you don’t go into academic general practice to earn big bucks.
At work, when are you happiest?
When a patient comes back looking much happier and more comfortable, hopefully talking about some positive changes they have been able to make in their lives.
What makes you angry?
When the phone line has been dead for an age, or the computer system is painfully slow, or crashes. Every minute matters in general practice and when our supporting systems let us down I get cross. But more importantly it is social injustice that really maddens me.
What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
I have four: being awarded my PhD; being made a Fellow of the RCGP; being nominated a clinical champion; chairing the RCGP adolescent health group.
What was your most embarrassing consultation?
A young man with a piercing that surprised both the chaperoning nurse and me.
What’s the worst thing a patient’s ever said to you?
The worst sorts of things are when patients share accounts of childhood abuse and neglect, which are horrifying and deeply traumatic, yet ‘ordinary’ for the patient because it is what they know and live with every day of their lives.
What phrase do you most overuse?
What’s the best thing about being a GP?
Being able to make a difference for the better in someone else’s life.
What’s the worst thing about being a GP?
Recognising that the things that really make an impact on life and health are often structural and political and are often way beyond what general practice, on a daily basis, can really change.