My apple tree, with its laden branches is in need of some support. As I propped up the branches with stakes, I realised this tree has been quite symbolic for me. In early March, as we wrote our initial Covid-19 colleague wellbeing strategy, the blossom was appearing, the days lengthening. Alongside the worsening picture as the pandemic took hold, my little tree stood firm. It basked in the glorious sunshine of the warm spring days. Now as we enter July, many of us are tired. My tree has worked hard too. The boughs are laden with fruit that is swelling and straining the branches. So, I need to take action.
But first, let us take a moment to pause, reflect on the last few months and say thank you. To all of you, who have worked hard, done different rotas, and covered different shifts, on new wards. Teams have hastily formed alongside the new wards and novel working environments. Change has become the new normal. Leave was changed or cancelled. Shift patterns were adapted. Longed for rotations were halted. Plans with family and friends changed. As the country entered lockdown, we all were personally and professionally affected.
As we all have a chance to pause and take a breath, what have you learnt? I always knew we worked with a fantastic team of junior doctors. All our colleagues have worked hard and adapted to the new normal. You the junior doctors, have been truly awesome. You have been professional, caring, flexible and compassionate. You have looked after each other, we have laughed and shed tears. From the challenging times, you have been innovative, designed new projects, been creative and helped us to prioritise colleague wellbeing.
Sitting on a virtual paediatric ARCP panel recently, I was yet again impressed with the range of skills shown and range of interests within my paediatric specialty. The only sadness was, we couldn’t verbally say how well everyone had done – the email confirmation of Outcome 1 or 6 seemed a little underwhelming!
This time of year also heralds a moving on. Many of you will be moving onto new rotations in August and September. Before starting a fresh can you take some time to rest and recharge? Leave has been challenging to take and many holiday destinations have clearly had to change. However the need to have a break is still there. Rather like my laden tree – we can prop up the branches but alongside this we need to lighten the load. I have removed some of the fruits to enable the remaining to grow and expand. We need to rationalise our to do lists, take some time off and plan for the next few months. It is also important to spend some time reflecting. I have recently revisited my plans and aims for 2020 in my wellbeing role. Some plans have been achieved and made possible by our covid strategy. Other areas have been a little neglected and are now being initiated, shelved or parked.
We realise that for many training has been different. As emergency and urgent care filled our days, the routine aspects of our work had to cease. For many in specialty training and for those of us in permanent roles this has been challenging. I have missed seeing the amazing children and young people, many of whom I have known for many years in my face to face clinics. I am still getting to grips with the virtual world of consulting – luckily many of my young patients/families are able to guide me! For those who are learning practical skills and trying to operate, the barriers are challenging to overcome.
So, as I sit under my tree, newly watered, staked with a lighter load I am grateful. Thank you to all who have shared, these rather extraordinary few months. Good luck to all those moving on to a new role. To all those in the South West who are part of WARD thank you. And to all those lucky enough to be moving west – do check out www.welldoctors.org for details of regional and local support networks. Your WARD mentors are ready to welcome you as part of induction. If you would like to be a part of it, check out how to become a WARD mentor too. If you feel now would be a good time to talk to someone there are many options. Seeking support has never been more important. It truly is ok to not be ok.
As for me, I am fortunate to have a week off. I will be spending some of it in my garden. Sat quietly, dreaming of recipes with my rather amazing crop. Apple crumble anyone?
Dr Anna Baverstock Paediatrician and Lead for doctor wellbeing @anna_annabav @SomersetFT, Taunton
@yougotthiswell (Bristol ED wellbeing)
Doctors support Network https://www.dsn.org.uk/
Royal Medical Benevolent Fund https://rmbf.org/health-and-wellbeing/