In September 2017, I burnt out – totally.

I walked out the door of my surgery where I had worked for 17 years and if at that time I could have closed the door on medicine forever, I would have done so with all my heart and never looked back. The NHS and the 30 years I had worked in it, 20 years in General Practice had finally broken me. I had nothing left to give to anyone. I was crushed emotionally, physically and mentally. It sounds dramatic but it’s how I felt. I truly did not know what to do.

For those last 2 weeks of work, I did not eat or sleep, I lost 1/2 stone. I had panic attacks driving to work because I knew what I had to face. Every day when I walked in the door I felt like I was being accosted from all angles by secretaries wanting me to dictate a letter, or do an insurance form, by ambulance crew wanting to discuss a patient who needed a visit ASAP, by receptionists telling me there were 3 sick old people in the waiting room and no appointments for 3 weeks.

I began to feel like a schizophrenic because when I saw patients, I could almost hear my mind saying “Go Away – I don’t care. I don’t want to know. Shut Up!!”

I no longer heard what patients or staff said because all I could think of was getting them out of my room and away from me. If a district nurse called to discuss a patient I would sit there with a blank mind wanting them desperately to leave me alone. I would stare at a discharge summary and weep because I didn’t know where to start and I no longer could decipher any of what it said.

And still I went on because I am a GP and that is what we do and that is the way it has always been right from medical school, through hospital jobs and out in the surgeries. The doctors just did it because we felt responsible and it was our duty.

And then one day I couldn’t go on any longer and I walked out the door, told my colleagues not to contact me and slept for 2 weeks.

I looked at what I could do instead. Early Retirement – wasn’t an option, I couldn’t afford it. I didn’t know what else I could do in medicine – I looked at management but it looked so boring to me. My friends said change practices – but by then I hated the idea of medicine full stop so there was no point. I was lost.

I saw the advert of the NHSE funded Coaching delivered by Beyond Coaching and I applied – I had to do something and this was there.

My Coach was absolutely superb! I ranted and raved and sat in silence not knowing where to start and my Coach listened to what I felt. They taught me about so many things that would help me cope. We used NLP, Visualisation, Image memory replacement, Mindfulness, Breathing techniques and more. My Coach found the ways that worked for me and left those that didn’t.

Coaching taught me about time management and learning to say ‘no’. I learnt about how to build my resilience and handing responsibility back to patients so that you don’t take on all the weight of their issues.

Coaching taught me that I could be empathic without being swamped with feelings and attachment to my patients – how to wrap myself in “clingfilm” so if I was with someone who I found particularly distressing, I could help them without letting their pain seep into me and affect my life.

Coaching taught me how to teach a patient that the GP/Patient relationship is a partnership and that they have to take on the responsibility for it and not expect the doctor to just sort it with a pill.  And how to hand back the care to that patient in a positive way.

My Coach and I talked about ways to stay calm when a patient or situation is winding you up. How to cope when you have just got in the door after 4 visits only to find another one arrives at 4pm because the patient didn’t want to disturb the GP in the morning because they were always busy! We explored ways to manage the frustration, demand and abuse we suffer as GPs. And, so much more.

My Coach also helped me deal with personal issues – a very close family member, a young man had a very brutal form of mouth cancer in the last 2 years before I walked out. I could no longer cope with any young men with any form of cancer, or any type of oral cancer. I would have panic attacks or flashbacks if I was exposed to this sort of patient. My Coach taught me techniques to shut down the flashback and replace them with happy pictures. They taught me techniques to separate the patient in front of me from my life so I could manage to be with them without suffering pain myself.

We set goals at the beginning of the Coaching:

  • I wanted to get my vocation back – I had had it since the age of 14 and now it was gone- a void in my life.
  • I wanted to enjoy being a doctor again.
  • I wanted to be able to do my duty as a good GP to all my patients including the young men with cancer.
  • I never believed that these goals could ever be achieved.

Somehow, through this coaching that was so personally focused on me, not just as a doctor but as a person, these feelings have come back stronger than I can remember for years.

After 5 months off I went back to work. Every day is exciting again. I wonder what is going to walk through the door instead of dreading it. I feel an adrenalin rush when I am dealing with a complicated patient or making a new diagnosis. I enjoy doing visits rather than dread having to get in the car and be nice to someone face to face in their own home. Now, once again, I see it as a privilege, which I am lucky to have.

Without this Coaching, I do not know what I would have done.

Now I do.

I want to be a GP again and for that I will be always grateful!

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