“We are stronger together”
Claire Harris spoke to us about why she became a GP. She shares her experiences and thoughts on the current health crisis.
At Menlo Park, we have always admired and appreciated GPs , Nurse and all NHS staff. Their dedication and commitment has always been an inspiration. This has never been more apparent than now.
Can you tell us a a bit about yourself?
I am a Portfolio GP and mum of two. I have been a GP nearly 10 years and in that time I have been a locum, a salaried and a partner. My extended roles have included out of hours work, territorial army medicals, and Facial Aesthetics. Currently my clinical work is mainly out of hours and GP in A&E work as well as my private aesthetics work. I qualified from Sheffield medical school in 2005 where I worked as a junior before joining the Nottingham VTS training scheme qualifying as a GP in 2010. After locuming briefly, I took a sabbatical and went travelling before returning to both a salaried and locum role.
I joined a practice as a Partner that I had worked for already and stayed for 6 years. For the last 18 months I have been doing locum in and out of hours work, on both short and medium term basis. This has been interleafed with my Aesthetics business and a social marketing business. I find the non GP roles refresh and revitalise me for my day to day clinical practice.
At what point during your training did you decide on General Practice?
I have always been a generalist with a broad range of interests. In medical school I happened to read a book on clinical hypnosis and became very interested in the mind body connection. I managed to self design a module on complementary and holistic therapies meeting many practitioners in their non NHS practices as well as spending time in palliative care, pain management and GP a few of the areas some of these therapies were being applied in small scale within the NHS. I had a vision of training in general practice and then training in other therapies and integrating them. Of course the realities of the steep learning curve when you enter medicine and then get onto training programs meant the goal or buried for a while.
As a junior I enjoyed acute medicine and A&E and I deliberately chose those for my first few years to get me ready knowing I would enter GP training.
Can you tell us about your first years as a GP?
It was weird coming off the VTS for the first time, it was freedom I wasn’t used to, but with that came fear. Fear I might miss out on jobs, fear of not being qualified enough to deal with things without the back up of my supervisor. The reality was after years on a training conveyor belt it took some adjusting to!
For the first 3 months I locumed like crazy sometimes doing extra sessions in the middle of the day as I knew we were going travelling. While away travelling I got contacted by a surgery who had heard I might be looking for a job on my return and I came back to a salaried role and continued to locum. The role was my first taste of making truly solo decisions as it was a small practice often I would be the only GP on in the afternoon. Like most things we fear as you gain more experience the worry lessens.
How do you think the overall moral of Primary Care staff is currently, and what can Primary Care staff do to improve this?
This varies significantly I am lucky to still meet with a group of GP’s I qualified with all of whom are still partners and with them morale is good they feel in control of their working conditions as well as doing the best they can for their patients. At the other end of the scale I know GP’s who have left the profession all together due to stress and burn out. I think as medics we often neglect our own mental health in the face of the pressures of the job however this is a corner stone of supporting morale both our own and in our places of work.
With the issue of Covid, how do you see Practices coping over the months ahead? What changes are going to have to develop over time? Do you see any of these changes becoming a permanent feature?
Practices are having to adapt very quickly at times hour on hour. This is the same in out of hours and hospital medicine.
Luckily GP’s and doctors in general are very resilient and innovative. There have been some excellent practical solutions bought to bear very rapidly for example video consultations which had been met in many quarters with scepticism when the functionality first arrived are being used highly effectively across the country at present. This new way of working will I’m sure bring about permanent changes in the way that we work.
What have been your highlights as a GP so far?
I don’t think there’s a single moment but as a GP I value my role attending to patients at the end of their life. There is no greater privilege than seeing a patient and helping them physically and mentally during this final stage of their life. If we cannot look after those who are dying properly all that comes before is for nought.
What are you top tips for staying on top of looking after your own mental health while working in a high pressure environment?
We are facing unprecedented times at present which will tax all our mental health’s and coping strategies. Remembering things that help in non crisis times and applying those is still as important. Things that change ones state music, movement, conversation (albeit virtually) all need to carry on if not increase. For me meditation is a must even 5-10 minutes first thing via an app or online helps keep me calmer through the day. I continue to practice gratitude daily too.
In this time being thankful for small things, a cup of tea, a kind word and sliver of sunshine through a window. For those finding simple self care not enough the Practitioners health program offers support dealing with burn out and mental health issues.
What advice do you have for GPs currently feeling the pressure at the moment?
We need stand together and look out for each other. It will be important to keep communicating with each other and up to date with the latest developments as the sand is constantly shifting. Keep up the self care practices you usually rely on.
What advice do you have for newly qualified GPs on how to keep well and look after their mental health / family struggles and workload pressure?
Put self care practice in place now to see you through your career. Like any new role its takes time to adjust to and things are moving quickly at present. Ask for help trust your instincts and work with your wider team.
What one piece of advice would you give to GPs starting out in their profession now?
You stand on the edge of more choice than you have had your whole medical career (current circumstances not withstanding). It is important to make a choice based on what will suit you and your interests and life. Without considering this its easy to end up in roles feeling unfulfilled and prone to burning out.
Most GP roles can be coupled with a portfolio interest to maintain variety and keep practice fresh. This is an area I’ve often spoken to final year GP registrars about.
What changes would you like to see in Primary care over the next 10 years?
Less red tape, inefficiencies and hoop-jumping policies that help no one. More coal-face clinicians able to push sensible changes that will help both patients and the work force. More remote and flexible working as we move to meet patient demand and physician’s circumstances. MDT working within practices themselves. The introduction of extra skill sets including those in the complementary sphere. These allow better regulation and co-ordination. As well as solutions for patients that aren’t all drug based. This will also pave the way for more research and evidence based medicine to move into that sphere. More lifestyle and nutrition focused preventative healthcare.
What is the most rewarding aspect about being a GP?
Seeing people through all the seasons of life but end of life care is the most rewarding for me.
How do you keep yourself motivated and inspired every day?
I have a diverse set of interests inside and outside of medicine. I have designed my clinical life around those and my family. My goals and focuses which keep me moving forward which is important for humans to feel they are making progress. A network of doctors that support, learning groups for the different areas of practice. This is helpful to maintain perspective and feel connected.
What are you final words for Primary Care at the moment?
We are stronger together. We have never faced this level of threat but we can do it by communicating and moving as one.
From this we can forge a stronger healthcare system for the future.
Interview with GP, Jonathan Griffiths
To read our interview with Jonathan Griffiths click here
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