Helping people see a way through

by Gilly Cooper

Support for peers aims to keep doctors from leaving medicine altogether

Location: UK
Published: Monday 23 August 2021
GP at desk

I see my role as someone who can listen first and foremost.

Its often the telling of the story to an outsider that helps someone to see a way through. If thats not enough, then its 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 professionalsdoctors 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 telephoneand 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 hadnt 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. 

Ive 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 muchand that was before the pandemic!

If someone is reluctant to call, Id want to say, What is there to lose? We are all friendly and understanding. If you dont get what you thought you needed, youve 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