This site is intended for health professionals only

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

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