Looking after your wellbeing after medical school
Dr Ellie Mein, Medical Defence Union
The transition from medical student to doctor brings a mix of feelings: excitement; achievement; anticipation; apprehension and sometimes even fear.
This can be difficult, because you also need to cope with additional pressures and responsibilities.
However, long hours, heavy workloads, patient demands and the threat of litigation can collectively create a high-stress working environment.
Earlier this month, Pulse reported that nearly half of trainee doctors have considered quitting, due to ‘personal wellbeing’, while both Health Education England and the GMC have pledged greater support for doctors, including trainees specifically.
So while it’s important to look after yourself throughout your career, it’s particularly necessary at these periods of change.
1. Focus on your successes
The qualities that drive many people into a career in medicine, like ambition, dedication and focus, can also increase the risk of burnout.
- Recognise your successes – keeping a record of feedback from patients and colleagues can help
- Don’t constantly compare yourself to others
- Reflect on incidents where things haven’t gone to plan, but don’t be too hard on yourself
2. Know when to ask for help
For instance, the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund also found that 78% of doctors believe that those in their profession are so busy looking after others that they neglect to look after themselves.
- Identify early in your placement who to go to within your workplace or training scheme with wellbeing concerns
- If you know or suspect your performance could be affected by your health, consult a suitably-qualified colleague (such as your GP, occupational health doctor or psychiatrist) and make any changes to your practice they advise
- Don’t self-prescribe to alleviate symptoms like exhaustion or anxiety - it could leave you vulnerable to a GMC complaint
- Speak to your colleagues - they may be able to reduce the pressures you face at work
3. Look after yourself
Physical wellbeing also needs attention, so don’t neglect your basic needs like eating, taking breaks and sufficient rest, so you can cope with the rigours of the job.
The GMC’s national training survey also reported that nearly two thirds or respondents said they didn’t have access to catering or a mess room on out-of-hours shifts. So, it’s worth bringing in healthy snacks, and to avoid relying on vending machines, or caffeine during night shifts.
Working odd shifts or runs of nights can play havoc with your body clock. We previously wrote about how to survive your first night shift, including advice on establishing good sleep habits.
Use your breaks wisely
Although it may be difficult at busy times, try to take your breaks and use them to get away from the wards or clinic. It can be tempting to cut breaks short or use them to catch up with other work such as chasing test results. But doing this won’t give you a mental break, so it’s better to take a walk, meet with peers or do something completely unrelated to work.
Medicine is a rewarding career, but it’s important to be realistic about the highs and lows from the outset. Remember that however you’re feeling, you’re not alone and support is available, so ask for it early on.
Be kind to yourself and to your colleagues who, despite appearances, may be going through the same emotions.
Dr Ellie Mein is medicolegal adviser at the MDU