It’s a challenging time for many healthcare professionals. As the pandemic continues to progress, being healthy while working or volunteering is critically important. It’s also important to consider our mental wellbeing. That’s why we should also take a moment to assess our health and look out for those around us who are under additional pressure.
Looking after your health
Looking after your own mental and physical health is important as a doctor. Any problems with your health could have an impact on your judgment and performance and lead to concerns about patient safety. The GMC expect doctors to manage their own health and seek and follow appropriate medical advice (Good Medical Practice, paragraph 28) when necessary.
It is equally important for medical students to also keep their health in check, from year one and throughout the course. While it isn’t possible to attend teaching sessions at the moment, some of you may be volunteering on the wards and helping out. There may be other times, once the pandemic is over, when you are unwell and it would be better for you, your tutors and your fellow students and patients for you not to attend. If you’re unwell during the coronavirus outbreak, you should self-isolate in line with national advice.
You may be concerned that you have a pre-existing medical condition that puts you at increased risk during these unprecedented times. If so, you should discuss this with your medical school and, if appropriate, your own GP or consultant.
If you are on the wards or in another clinical environment during the coronavirus outbreak you should be provided with the appropriate equipment, such as protective clothing, and be given the necessary advice and information to minimise the risk of transmission of the virus.
The GMC has a dedicated area for medical students on its website.
While there are many existing sources of support for members, there are also additional services, some launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These include:
Stories from the front line
We spoke to Dr Emilia Heselden, a trainee anaesthetist working in critical care, about how her work has changed and how it has affected her mental health.
"Everything has changed. Working in full PPE is hot and uncomfortable, making even simple tasks harder.
"The most difficult thing is having discussions with patients’ relatives over the telephone... You can’t read their body language or facial expressions so it’s harder to know if they’ve fully understood you. It can be upsetting knowing they are alone at home when you are breaking bad news."
How are you and your colleagues managing your mental health?
"Firstly, acknowledging that things are tough right now and it’s okay to not be okay. Sometimes you just need to have a good cry! Talking with colleagues, family and friends both about difficult things in my day and normal things really helps. It’s nice to take a break from thinking about COVID!
"On my days off, I make sure to drag myself out for some exercise in daylight, and prepare tasty meals to look forward to when I’m back in work.
"Colleagues have set up an honesty box for food and snacks so we know if we are busy there will always be something to eat. We share a lot of jokes, memes and good news stories.
"Some staff members have set up welfare sessions when they are free to talk and there is a clinical psychologist available twice a week for drop in sessions.
"On a less formal level, everyone has offered to talk and when we are in work, we always check up on each other."
Health and wellbeing e-learning module
We know looking after yourself is just as important as looking after patients, especially when you’re starting out in medicine. Before the pandemic started, we developed an e-learning module on health and wellbeing, aimed specifically at junior doctors.
Written by MDU advisers with the assistance of key experts, the course will help you link your existing knowledge with your own wellbeing, and give you the confidence to take the first steps in ensuring your colleagues' wellbeing too.
The 7/11 breathing technique
This self-calming tool helps you concentrate on your breathing. You breathe in slowly to the count of seven, and breathe out slowly to the count of 11, getting progressively slower over time. Listen to a guided example by Dr Jo Bowen, psychiatrist and stress management consultant.
You can find more stress and anxiety management tools like the 7/11 breathing technique as well as tips on supporting yourself and those around you in our e-learning module on health and wellbeing for foundation doctors.
We’re by your side with guidance and advice
We know lots of you have many questions, especially those of you entering hospitals soon. We’re constantly updating our online guidance and advice as soon as new information becomes available. You can find the latest guidance and advice updates about the coronavirus outbreak on the MDU website.
Our advisory team is also regularly answering the questions our members have been contacting us about, in videos recorded from their own homes. In this update, Dr Sally Old explores sources of support available to doctors.
As always, our expert medico-legal advisers are available from 8am to 6pm, Monday to Friday (and can be contacted around the clock for urgent enquiries) to answer any medico-legal queries about dealing with the ongoing coronavirus situation, or to offer support to members who need medico-legal advice relating to their professional practice. You can contact them on firstname.lastname@example.org.