Emotional toll of being a doctor

There is hope after burnout

Updated: Tuesday 22 October 2019
Alison Silver is an ST3 at London Deanery. She writes under a pseudonym.

In July 2014 an article titled 'Resuscitation, Remedy and Respite' was published in the Voicebox section of the BMA News.

This article was based on my personal and emotional journey over a period of years up through the medical hierarchy, to the point of burnout; after which I took a year out of programme.

The article was written during my year out of programme, which provided an opportunity away from the clinical environment to reflect on events. As a creative person, I would say that it was written as part of the healing process after the exhaustion of the previous years. At the time, I was still in the process of coming to terms with having fallen off, albeit temporarily, the medical ladder.

I was justifying my reasons for time out, accepting events and beginning to rebuild self-confidence as a doctor and also a human being, as for some of us our sense of self has become closely tied with how we feel about ourselves as doctors.

I attributed my exhaustion and end desire to leave medicine to a concoction of factors.

Poor staffing levels and an inability to finish shifts on time eventually infringes on your personal life. This in turn can affect revision time and exam progress as well as time available to spend with people you love - sometimes at critical moments. In turn, this can influence how you feel about who you are and what you are achieving. Medics are high-achieving, and failing at your own self-set high expectations can also lead to disappointment.

I attributed my exhaustion and end desire to leave medicine to a concoction of factors.

Alison Silver, ST3

Currently, two years after this experience I am working on a flexible basis. Over the years I am glad to tell you I have achieved my key aims of passing membership exams, attaining a specialty registrar job in my first choice region, and now knowing the research area I wish to pursue.

Needless to say, along the way there have been challenges; tricky events, trying people, and emotional responses. However, I have learnt to appraise my past experiences in a more positive light. I better understand my personal strengths. I accept that I have areas requiring improvement. I have understood how important a balanced outlook to life, supported by mentors, family and friends is.

There is still a fear, which lurks inside me, a shadow of events gone, and worries about history repeating itself. But it is possible to rationalise and manage it, to implement what I have learnt, and to counteract that negativity.

Since these experiences, I have become acutely aware of other doctors' behaviour. I pick up more readily the signs of exhaustion, irritability, and reducing enthusiasm. I hear stories of dissatisfaction, desires to change specialty, even leave the profession. This is because of my own experiences.

I would like others to know that they are not alone or failing because of feeling that way. They should not blame themselves, or face the threat of losing their original selves. That there is a possibility of hope, rekindling interest and continuing.