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Junior Doctors Dedicate Their Lives to Looking After Patients - But Who Dedicates Their Lives to Looking After Us?

25/07/2016 08:24 | Updated 25 July 2016
Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

I read a recent post from a junior doctor on a Facebook support group, who expressed deep dissatisfaction in her training post. If she failed to reach the holy grail of becoming a consultant by completing her training, she believed that her only alternatives would be quitting medicine altogether or leaving the country.

I understood her plight. Like the mindset of most doctors, having studied for 10+ years to reach a goal post that was no longer desirable, seems like such a waste. And a huge failure.

When I explained to her that there are, in fact, a wealth of career opportunities for doctors with excellent career progression, desirable remuneration and autonomy without necessarily needing to become a consultant, she was entirely bemused by this.

Specialty training as a junior doctor is a structured competency based pathway to achieving a recognised Consultant status.

Although all junior doctors are encouraged to commit to training in a specialty, in its current form, one size does not fit all. I believe this may be part of the problem.

As a junior doctor in occupational health - a medical specialty concerned with health at work, I spend a significant proportion of my time coaching and supporting my junior doctor colleagues who in this current climate, are particularly vulnerable to the insurmountable workplace and training demands coupled with seemingly never-ending warfare between the government and the BMA.

This vulnerability lies in a reluctance to identify that there is a problem, and accessing the right support systems to address the problem.

Unfortunately, a chronically understaffed work environment is not always forgiving to healthcare professionals with physical or mental health problems.

I mostly see my junior doctor patients at crisis point where they may have real clinical signs of depression, are chronically exhausted and at high risk of making a serious mistake at work to the detriment of patient safety.

It's at this point I have to metaphorically drag them from work kicking and screaming, prescribing them time off to seek the definitive help they need.

Due to the frequent complexity of managing doctors as patients, specialised services like the Practitioner Health Programme in London are required. However unfortunately, the number of services like this available to doctors is dwindling due to lack of funding.

Although occupational health services are available at every hospital, few doctors are aware of our existence or function, hence most continue to suffer in silence.

We performed a recent poll of 400 doctors subscribed to Medic Footprints - a social enterprise I co-founded, for doctors exploring alternative career opportunities. A staggering 50% stated they were planning to leave the country, and another 12% were planning to leave medicine altogether. These figures are congruous with recent General Medical Council data indicating that ​over 7500 doctors under the age of 50 requested voluntary erasure from the register last year compared to 2500 five years ago.

I temporarily departed from the NHS myself for South Africa nearly 6 years ago. I desperately needed a separation from working in the healthcare service, which I believe had contributed towards my worsening anhedonic state, and left me seeking help from a psychotherapist.

The expertise and skills I gained from working as a rural surgeon was a real uplift in my relationship with medicine, which eventually was the motivation I needed to return to the UK with renewed passion and commitment.

Many of my colleagues and clients who have embarked on similar journeys outside of the confines of a traditional medical career recant similar stories. There are several that have used their transferrable skills for roles such as Entrepreneurs in Health Tech Start Ups, Management Consultancy, Medical Education, Health Policy Leaders and more.

They took that leap in the name of their own wellbeing and career satisfaction. Most of them are now still working in the healthcare sector, and are employed by or have contracts with the NHS.

The main difference between my colleagues who took that leap compared to the ones I see in my clinics is the mindset. The former demonstrates an ability and willingness to look beyond institutionalised thinking to achieve their goals.

Therefore I've decided to launch an online campaign to raise awareness of the fact there's #moretomedicine.

This celebration of diverse medical careers and wellbeing helps to break a taboo - that of wishing to explore a career pathway less travelled. It also recognises that we need to support doctors' wellbeing by enabling them to access health services when they need help.

The campaign will kick off with a series of scheduled twitter chats with doctors who have diversified - this includes an academic health-tech entrepreneur, an Emergency medicine doctor and radio DJ and a doctor who became a TV documentary journalist.

My ambition is to promote talent retention, not by boot strapping desperately unhappy doctors to the wards, but by allowing them to openly seek career and wellbeing opportunities for themselves.

After all, we dedicate our lives to looking after patients.

But who dedicates their lives to looking after us?

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