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Independents' Day

Save your judgement this year – I’ve had a bellyful

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I’m looking at the scales. It’s not a pretty sight. Christmas indulgence – too many Quality Street when signing prescriptions, and too many meals with friends and colleagues. I have reached that awkward point that may be familiar to some colleagues: can I lecture patients on their lifestyle and weight while the glut of festive excess sits heavy on my waistband?

This thought provokes two responses in me – the first is annoyance. Does being a tad overweight make me a worse doctor? Almost everyone could do with losing a few pounds – I may even be more empathetic as a result. But if a patient comes in with a high BMI, will I hesitate to mention it because of some strange consultation etiquette – or, horror of horrors, in case they turn round and comment on mine? Does being a doctor who smokes automatically mean you aren’t fit to counsel a patient on smoking cessation? At least with smoking they might not know you’re at it too, so you could get away with it.

As doctors, we are meant to be beyond reproach

Then there’s drinking. I am not teetotal. Sometimes I drink more wine than I should. I always worry about the slippery slope of having that extra glass, especially after a difficult day at work. The road to regular overindulgence is one I have seen taken by patients and colleagues. I ponder if it’s better to avoid it altogether, then remember that graph about survival they show you at medical school. The one where people who don’t drink and people who drink excessively both die sooner than the moderate drinkers. It’s just the staying moderate that can be hard. 

But after being irked by the idea that the odd glass of rouge could be thought to affect my ability to practise medicine, my second emotion is embarrassment. I should know better. I do know better. Perhaps I need to do better. I’ve heard all the excuses about weight gain, from ‘I only eat lettuce’ to ‘everyone in my family is big boned’. I hear myself using them, and I feel a bit pathetic. 

I often find myself feeling sorry for politicians caught up in a scandal. Well, a bit. The standards they have to live by suddenly change the moment they go from a normal member of the public to an MP. It’s the same for us. As doctors, we are meant to be beyond reproach. Healthy, glowing, evidence-based examples of modern medicine. We can’t say that a patient annoys us. If someone is abusive in a consultation, we aren’t meant to swear back. We are supposed to rise above it; to turn the other cheek. Why? An outdated idea that doctors are saints and not just people? 

Perhaps this is why acknowledging illness and stress is so hard as a GP. Why asking for family time is frowned upon. By trying to live up to this superhuman model, we paint a misleading picture of what our lives are really like. Perhaps this is why politicians, the media and patients feel they can demand seven-day availability with no reference to the personal cost to us.

Perhaps it’s time to be people first, and doctors second. Now pass me that last mince pie.

Dr Zoe Norris is a GP in Hull

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Readers' comments (7)

  • For too long we have been choosing that the NHS survive at our cost, our demise. Perhaps we can only truely live as a proffession when we choose to kill the NHS. Perhaps then we will be able to enter a new relationship with our patients, where we are not superheros, but humans who help to heal.

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  • Be careful cause the GMC is going to get you if you dare to be human.

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  • There's something deeply worrying about the idea that only a thin person can advise a patient on weight loss.

    Surely the opposite is true? In the same way that nobody understands the challenges of diabetes than a diabetic doctor, clearly nobody understands the challenges of obesity better than an obese doctor.

    If we can all remain aware that our patients are the same as us - with the same human failings that we all have - the doctor-patient relationship could benefit from that attitude. We are all imperfect, human, and we're all in this thing together.

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  • So many patients simply do not comprehend that we are humans. Having being criticised by patients for going on maternity leave at 37/40 ("too soon") and having a few days off when my son was admitted to hospital with sepsis (which the patients were told!) only to be met with comments about how inconvenient this was to the patients, I'm starting to think that maybe we should be replaced with computers, as per Jeremy hunt's master plan. Either that, or we shouldn't have a family, any time off, and must come to work even if it means vomiting on the patients.

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  • Come off it Zoe.own your own guilt ...people are just as likely to think and say.well she's human the same as us......your views are pretty outdated people just don't think you are super human or above reproach come to that..there are many much respected and liked health workers who are really overweight not just a the few pounds you grizzle about.they do see you having a drink having a fag.shock horror? no!!

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  • I only counsel people on their weight in two circumstances:
    1. They ask for advice on weight loss.
    2. They attend with a medical condition that would be helped by weight loss(diabetes, arthritic knees etc).
    I am comfortable in both these scenarios despite having a BMI 30 myself.

    To launch into a conversation regarding a person's weight when they have attended with something quite unconnected would be paternalistic in the extreme, and would quite rightly invite them to comment on my own extra pounds.

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  • Tutt, tutt. Giving in to temptation must surely demonstrate a lack of "emotional resilience."
    Someone call the GMC!

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