GP training: Junior doctors need work/life balance too

Retaining our junior doctors is impossible if we continue to treat them as service providers and not as individuals, writes Dr Patrice Baptiste

August is when new graduates take up their first ever post as a junior doctor and when existing trainees move to a new specialty, possibly in a new hospital miles away from their family and friends.

It is when some doctors are expected to start their jobs with no rota – not knowing if they will be starting on a set of gruelling night shifts or on a poorly-staffed ward bursting at the seams with critically unwell patients.

It is when doctors are expected to walk long distances because there are no parking permits (and there will probably be no permits available for the duration of their placement).

This is also the time when doctors do not know what they are signing up for, because they have not received their contract and there has been no correspondence about when they are likely to receive it.

To most doctors this is the norm and it happens year after year after year.

Where are the incentives?

As doctors, why are we expected to ‘put up and shut up’ with poor working conditions and a lack of support from the rota co-ordinators and senior management? Why are we expected to provide excellent care for patients without excellent care for ourselves?

Why are we made to feel as though we are asking for the unreasonable when we are simply asking for the chance to be able to have lives outside of medicine? Where is the incentive to work demanding and unforgiving hours when you do not have your work rota for the next six months to a year?

As much as I enjoy caring for patients, I also care about my mental and physical wellbeing and my family and friends. Doctors have lives – and being expected to work long hours without knowing if you will be able to attend your own wedding or a holiday you have been looking forward to for years is not acceptable.

How will we attract more doctors to the profession and hold onto existing doctors if we are not treated as humans; individuals with our own lives? Being creative and partaking in activities outside of medicine helps me to be a better doctor. But if I don’t have sufficient time away from work how can I achieve this?

To all those people who say ‘You chose this’, I would argue that no I did not - I did not choose a failing NHS where I have no rota, no proper rest breaks, no support from senior management and a government that wants me to work long hours in poor working conditions.

The importance of a good team

With the chaos surrounding all those working within the NHS, nothing helps more than a team that is supportive.

After completing four busy and intense night shifts I am so grateful to the team that I was working with. I was supported by my registrars who I could call upon and ask for help if I needed it. They were brilliant in their care for the patients who kept coming through the A&E doors and in their care for me and the other team members. They were leaders in every sense of the word; they listened to me and valued my opinions.

So, although I was working a completely unnatural shift, I was happy that I was made to feel a part of a team, working together for the greater good of the patients in our care.

The key is not only a great team on the ‘frontline’ but a great non-clinical team within and outside of the hospital.

Until we start appreciating, valuing and supporting our doctors I cannot see a future where the NHS will be properly staffed and safe for our patients.

  • Dr Baptiste is a ST2 GP trainee in Romford, Essex

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