GPNI Wellbeing: Boundaries by Dr Stephen Harte
Dr Stephen Harte, GP and Executive Coach, explores how to deepen understanding of our interactions with colleagues in the workplace, by addressing some common problems with boundaries. Part of the GPNI series on Wellbeing.
June 2020 Update
“A job with purpose and meaning in a family setting: healing and caring for patients across generations – these are all life giving tasks. For nurses, pharmacists, GPs and everyone else in our surgeries – this is the privilege that we call working as part of the team in General Practice.
However in my own experience this is not always how it feels. Honestly, at times I think I’m wired perfectly for it, and at others it can feel like the opposite!
We know we do a pressurised job where the stakes are high, and there are alarming statistics about rates of suicide, substance abuse, stress and burnout. We knowingly and willingly serve our communities despite these things, but we don’t do it blindly, because this all matters to patients. Stressed-out, unhappy healthcare workers can make poor decisions that affect patient care. Of course, massive systems issues are at play in our workplace that have huge impact and can be out of our control, so we must therefore address those things that we actually can control.
Never have these strains been as apparent as the day in which I write this, in the midst of the the Covid-19 global pandemic. The goal posts are moving rapidly, our comfort zones have been left far behind, and we rightly feel the burden of care for our families and the impact our job might have on their wellbeing. Our relational capacity and emotional capacity are being tested to the limit, and it’s important to recognise that these can differ between individuals. Recent NHS life has taught us to be a resilient bunch, and we have been well trained. Although we may have to work in a relentless manner for this time, we will pull together and support one another to face this season, knowing that it too will pass.
I like this quote by Justin Amery, “It is an enduring mystery that doctors, who can be so caring, compassionate and skillful with their patients, can be so uncaring, cold and unskillful with ourselves”. If you want to sustain your wellbeing and be of any use to others you do need to genuinely and sacrificially care for yourself.
Medicine attracts people who love to help others – we need to apply some of that to ourselves too. We need to take time to ask some tough questions, and listen to the answers: ‘Am I doing OK here? Is this work pattern sustainable? Do I tend to talk about my work in a negative way? Am I often drained and disconnected, or energised and engaged?’
If the answers to all of these questions is that all is well at this stage in your life, then I am pleased for you and encourage you to look out for your colleagues who are in a different place. If, like me, you’ve had periods where it doesn’t feel that good, then the next question is surely ‘what can I proactively do to manage this?’
Below are some resources where help is available for all sorts of specific reasons, and I would particularly point your attention towards opportunities such as mentoring schemes. These can be used for pursuing excellence and development of specific leadership skills. Another potential benefit is similar to the process whereby professionals such as counsellors are required to undergo 1 hour of therapeutic supervision for every 20 hours of practice. This is to help them remain aware of themselves as they engage with the multiple traumas of their clients. Could we not also benefit from a safe place to explore the effects of these, gain a different perspective and reconnect to a new sense of purpose?
Another anonymous quote I am fond of is this, “See yourself so you can see others, love yourself so you can love others”. Self care is actually another way of putting the care of patients to the fore. I encourage you to think of the long game, and invest in the wellbeing of yourself and those around you, “
Dr Stephen Harte (GP
The NIMDTA GP mentoring scheme is continuing and sessions will take place remotely. Follow the link to find out more and register.
NHS staff can access a range of apps for free until the end of December 2020 to support their mental health and wellbeing
One page document on Useful contacts for wellbeing including occupational health numbers for trusts.
Link to a range of wellbeing resources provided by RCGP. The majority are available to GPs in Northern Ireland
NHS Employers advice page for healthcare staff
20min ‘Care & Support Space’- a virtual ‘safe space though a guided coaching conversation. Email the [email protected] to register.