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The profession must face up to the reality of GP burnout

Eighteen months ago, a friend and I were at a music festival, and came across a junior doctor who we befriended. She told us how difficult she had found her F1 year. She had felt unsupported, stressed and exhausted. Having completed her medical degree as a mature student, she was shocked as to how difficult an experience it had been. 

My friend and I recounted our own experiences as junior doctors, how we had sometimes felt unappreciated just as she had.

We returned home from the festival feeling exasperated that some things hadn’t changed, that the system was not improving, and that bright, enthusiastic young minds were being frazzled at such an early stage in their careers.

So we came up with the idea of a social enterprise that we are still developing called Healing Doctors. It’s not good enough that, after thousands of pounds of investment and countless exams, doctors are not equipped with the skills they need to prevent burnout. Medical students need to be taught coping strategies, rather than dealing with difficult situations by following them with a four-hour drinking session at the local pub.

On the rise

In the last few months there has been an increase in reports on GP burnout. Whilst this is sad, worrying and of concern; the increase in awareness is welcoming and GPs are starting to admit the impact our profession is having on us. Not only do our patients expect high quality medical care, we constantly provide relief, sympathy, comfort and reassurance. We perpetually fill forms and tick boxes, whilst gathering evidence for revalidation, hitting our QOF markers and coping with the constant NHS changes that each new Government throws in our direction.

How many of us will admit that, to prevent burnout, we need to re-educate ourselves and practise what we preach? What would we tell our patients if they complained to us of early symptoms of stress? Exercise, a healthy diet, relaxation, mindfulness and reflection: when put like that, it seems so simple.

As well as self-education, organisational change is needed to combat the stress we encounter day to day. Lessons learnt from the Francis Report should help us achieve this and change the culture of not just the NHS, but of our profession. We need a healthier environment, job satisfaction and appreciation for our vocation, rather than bureaucracy and constant ‘bashing’ in the media.

Take a deep breath. Have a tea break mid morning with your practice team. Ask your colleague how he or she is doing; and if they ask you the same back, reply honestly. Remember the saying, ‘Physician, heal thyself’. How are we to help others, if we don’t heal ourselves first?

Dr Sarah Khan is a GP in Hertfordshire and co-founder of Healing Doctors CIC.


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