I see my role as someone who can listen first and foremost.
It’s often the telling of the story to an outsider that helps someone to see a way through. If that’s not enough, then it’s like putting a mirror up to the problem. I am able to summarise or reflect back, considering the feelings of the caller and anyone else involved.
The types of calls are wide ranging from work-related stress, career issues, employment and relationship problems to name a few. I am no longer a clinical doctor, and the service doesn’t offer medical advice. But I am aware that health professionals – doctors in particular – hesitate to access medical help especially for mental health problems, so I always have at the front of my mind whether I should signpost the caller to seek medical help.
I recall someone who was unhappy with the change to consulting during the pandemic, to mainly telephone, and the loss of continuity of care. They felt the type of clinician they wanted to be had been compromised, to the point they were considering leaving medicine. We had a very constructive discussion, considering options they hadn’t thought of before.
Later, I received a text to say that they had made significant changes to their roles and were much happier. That made my day! To know for sure that one person has benefitted makes me feel that my role is worthwhile.
I’ve been part of the BMA peer support service team since 2018. The service is a confidential phone line for all doctors and medical students to call for emotional support.
The peer support doctors are a team of GPs and specialists. Their ages and length of career in medicine varies from doctors in training to retirees. I have always appreciated all the support I received during my career, so I wanted to give something back to the profession, especially at a time when the stress of work has increased so much… and that was before the pandemic!
If someone is reluctant to call, I’d want to say, ‘What is there to lose?’ We are all friendly and understanding. If you don’t get what you thought you needed, you’ve spent a small amount of time. If you do get help in gaining a new insight into your issue, it could be life changing. Give it a go!
Gilly Cooper is a returner GP, GP mentor and a BMA peer support doctor from the West Midlands