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Showing no mercy

I find general practice research, with its thick layers of fluff and jargon, pretty hard to digest, let alone put into practice. But a headline such as ‘GPs urged to take unemotional approach to reduce burnout risk’, based on a paper in BMC Family Practice (pass) merits greater scrutiny.

Apparently, scoring well on ‘perspective taking’ protects us GPs from emotional exhaustion even if we show a high level of empathy. So let’s try that out in a real life scenario by running through my responses to a typical primary care presentation:

  • I understand that you are upset about the death of your hamster
  • I feel your pain because I, too, have suffered the untimely death of a much-loved rodent
  • I take on board your tentative self diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and your request for a sick note
  • With my unique perspective, though, I would say you are simply being an emotionally incontinent, work-shy wimp.
  • Sod off.

And I have to admit that I do feel significantly less burnt out than if I’d gone in for 15 minutes of mutual hand wringing and a referral to the local counselling service. So well done BMC Family Practice, whatever you are. You’ve saved my career. And more importantly, you’ve given me my first ever CPD impact double credit.  

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. You can email him at and follow him on Twitter @DocCopperfield.