I was reminiscing (yes, I’m now of that age) during a morning coffee break with one of my partners about the myriad of non-GP activities that we used to engage in during our (now extinct) lunch breaks five or six years ago.
A walk or run in a local park, a swim, visit to our local coffee shop, or even the barber. Yes, lunch breaks…. remember those?! Some of our trainees joined our discussion, bemused by our ‘back in the day’ chatter, as we were describing a relatively recent period of time that bore very little resemblance to the world in which we currently work.
‘But how can we get those days back?’ one trainee asked. ‘I don’t feel any joy’. The room fell silent.
Our future GPs had taken stock of the fact that we rarely come up for air during surgeries, and are often slowly sucked into the dark daily abyss of eat, sleep, work, and repeat, embracing an Orwellian Boxer mentality of ‘must work harder’.
We seemed to have lost our lunch breaks since our workload transcended to unbelievable heights and our workforce plummeted to new lows. However, when it comes to our morning coffee breaks, well, these are the last sacred entity that we feel free to exert any control over – and we will defend these breaks at any cost.
It’s our psychological safe space where we can preserve our sanity, and more importantly, check in with one another. We do need to mirror these protective behaviours when it comes to primary care.
I discussed local and national early career support with our future GPs, and one of our trainees discussed their recent discovery of Next Generation GP. Once some of my colleagues got past the realisation that this wasn’t a starship enterprise sent to rescue us, but in fact an initiative to build resilience and support for GP trainees and the newly qualified, it was clear to see they had found an avenue of hope and support to rejuvenate their dwindling interest in primary care. An interest, I hasten to add, that has started to wane before one’s career has even begun. Which is just sad.
But I’m a self-confessed eternal optimist (I know this is annoying), who frequently walks a tightrope to avoid toxic positivity whilst trying to retain a degree of realism within a profession I love and wish to still exist. We need to offer hope to the next generation.
We know the workload sucks and is sucking the life out of us as we know it. So how do we get some joy back into practice?
Earlier this week, my former senior partner and ex-BMA GPC clinical and prescribing policy lead Dr Andy Green and RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall spoke to the Commons’ Health Select Committee to discuss the impact of our workload and other unsustainable issues that we are experiencing in practice.
As a seven-session GP partner, GP trainer and mum, I sometimes find that at the end of a long, often 12-hour day, I have nothing left to give (for family, friends, or patients).
So, while I’m unable to locate a transporter for my trainees to revisit days of throwback, they already know that they must continue to find ways to create their own happiness and joy, while carving out their own journeys.
However, it’s up to all of us to empower them and make sure that we don’t leave an impossible situation in our wake that won’t allow them to thrive or indeed survive in years to come.
Dr Margaret Ikpoh is a GP partner and trainer in Hull