GP training: Five tips to help GP trainees avoid burnout

Dr Patrice Baptiste offers advice to other trainees on how to avoid burnout, based on her personal experience.

As my hospital placement approaches I cast my mind back to my last hospital placement when I was longing for the freedom of my F3 year. I felt drained in so many ways and questioned whether medicine was the right choice for me.

However, as I come to the end of my first year of GP training I realise that I've actually been avoiding burnout all year. As doctors, we often can't avoid medicine encroaching upon our personal lives, whether that be cancelling plans because you have a sick patient on the ward or thinking (and even dreaming) about work when you're at home.

Of course this is not unique to medicine, but as doctors we often normalise 12- or 13-hour night shifts, which certainly doesn’t help. Indeed a GMC survey this week found that over half of doctors in training say they work beyond their rostered hours at least weekly, and more than a fifth regularly feel tired and short of sleep at work due to their schedules.

So, if you're working above and beyond here are a few tips to remind you to look after yourself!

1. Remain positive and stay focused

Being positive is not something that comes naturally to me, so I know only too well how difficult this can be. It can be hard trying to ‘get through’ a placement when you're not enjoying it and feel as though you're not learning. As frustrating as this is, remaining positive and reminding yourself of what you want to achieve is crucial to you succeeding. Keep an eye out for any negative thoughts that enter your mind and counteract them with positive thoughts. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel.

2. There's always time for YOU

It is crucial that we look after ourselves as well as our patients. On a busy shift grab a glass of water, keep a snack with you and communicate with your seniors that you need to take a break. If you don’t feel well, instead of ‘soldiering on’ and suffering in silence, recognise when you need to go home and rest. Ensure you book your annual leave and when not at work, schedule time to exercise, meditate, see family and friends - whatever it is you gain pleasure from ensure you do it.

3. Remember you are human

As doctors I think it's fair to say we are usually too hard on ourselves. It can be extremely difficult when you feel you could do more but are unable to for whatever reason. We are doctors, not robots or super-humans and we need to remind ourselves and each other of that too. As hard as it can be to admit, we will make mistakes because we are human. The important thing is to remember that we need to learn from our mistakes. We need to know when to ask for help – and be prepared to support our colleagues when they need this. We also need to recognise when we are tired or unwell and when we need to rest.

4. Switch off

We've all been there, we go home and think about a patient we've seen, did we miss something, did we prescribe something correctly or prescribe it at all? It can be so difficult to switch off from work and I constantly try not to bring work home. Make a conscious effort to leave work at work and focus on spending time with your loved ones and enjoying your time away from work.

5. Make sure you have a support network

Where would I be without my family? Having a support network you can rely on gives you the strength to manage and cope with whatever you are going through, whether you're at work or not. So, spend time with your family and friends and nurture relationships because when you need them they will be there. Official or local support services can also help you avoid burnout and are useful if you feel you can't speak to or ‘burden’ your family and friends.

  • Dr Baptiste is a ST1 GP trainee in Romford, Essex

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