Dr E – SAS doctor experience

Dr E is a SAS doctor and tutor who has worked at the same acute care hospital for many years and is now considering working outside the NHS or even retiring because of their experiences during the pandemic.

Dr E took on leadership roles which were fulfilling and enjoyable but also increased their frustration in a number of aspects.

They say: ‘I was probably thinking this way anyway, but I've started to think about... how long do I want to continue to work in the NHS like this? Should I be looking at something outside? Should I retire and do something different altogether?

‘I've never thought of retiring before I was 60, but I've actually considered that more seriously than ever before.’

However, they have also felt mentally and physically drained and say post COVID-19 exhaustion may make retirement more likely than another job. Dr E wonders whether they have ‘another change left in me.’

They felt mentally prepared for the challenge, but having to think ‘out of the box’ all the time was mentally exhausting, coupled with fragility. ‘I've never felt quite so vulnerable at work for a long, long time.’

Dr E expected to be asked to do a registrar role, as there were lots of redeployment - surgical colleagues ‘who deal in the neck upwards’ were working as medical registrars - but in fact after being asked to help to develop coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic guidelines for their department, they found themselves in a leadership role.

This meant attending ward rounds which they were not normally part of, checking in with trainee doctors to find out how everyone was, did they have enough PPE etc. They found they were looked to as a point of continuity in a fluid situation where the consultants were often locums.

Dr E held daily meetings, worked out patient flow pathways with Emergency Medicine consultants and were invited to the Clinical Director’s meetings to brainstorm ideas. ‘It was exhausting, but it was so good to feel I could make a positive difference. I absolutely loved it.’ They worked longer hours and on Bank Holidays. ‘I was going in earlier, and I was working later. I was eating, sleeping, drinking the guideline.’

But one plus was the relationships Dr E had built up with other members of staff across the trust which led to informal adaptations to help manage emergency patients. ‘You've got longstanding, mutually respectful relationships that were so useful when the crisis hit.’

They felt that nationally some fellow SAS doctors were treated a little unfairly when it came to redeployment, ‘acting up, down and sideways’ but sometimes were not recognised for their huge experience. One senior SAS colleague, who helps run the oncology clinics and stands in when the consultant is away, was told they could be an SHO if needed. Dr E is now concerned about a second wave, making them ‘rattier and grumpier.’ They admit: ‘I’m a bit fed up now when we're getting into the marathon, rather than a sprint....we're all thinking, "What will we do if there's a second wave?" Because, we just haven't got anything left in the reserve now.’