The benefits of an open and respectful team

This anonymised account reflects the views of an individual, and not the General Medical Council.

A doctor with a mental health condition talks about the respectful way their colleagues have treated them during their training, and what could further improve the culture of support.

Returning to Training

I am currently working in neonatal medicine as part of run-through paediatric training and will be returning after a period of time off as I have a mental health condition.

As a registrar I will return to supervising medical students during their allocated days in the neonatal unit and supervising junior trainees day to day during their clinical work. I don't have a specific role in supporting juniors or students, but in the past juniors have frequently confided in me (and other registrars) regarding their anxieties about work.

A supportive and respectful team

I have a wonderful supervisor and I’ve kept in contact with the lovely ones over the years. My mentor arranged for charity funding for therapy, which has been invaluable. My neonatal unit has funded counselling monthly that anyone who works in the unit can book and attend, even during working hours. The consultant body are open about mental health problems and respectful. The trainees are sometimes a bit careless and have made inappropriate comments, but the workplace has independently noticed and addressed this. The senior nurses have been supportive. They see us all shift, but the consultant doesn't, and they filter the workload so it's manageable.

While I’ve worked with very supportive people, I have faced a number of challenges. These include the fact that transferring information between placements has been up to me, there have been long waiting lists to see occupational health services and the mental health team refused to listen to any worries from my supervisors. There have also been issues with payroll with my previous and current trusts and on-going financial issues with the postgraduate training organisation.

What I would change…

  • Improve access to mental health support either through the NHS, postgraduate training organisation, trust, or regional care
  • Help with facilitating meetings with future departments and supervisors to plan ahead
  • Allow pre-booking of occupational health appointments to stop delays
  • Promote mental health support sources amongst trainees and highlight confidentiality of accessing help
  • Help rota coordinators understand fatigue and how it impacts on all health
  • Ask me what I need and what I want people to know
  • Make the distinction clear between a trainee in difficulty because of a disability and one who has a criminal charge
  • Listen and be caring – this is the best support for any doctor with anxiety or stress
  • Suggest mentors for those who want them; a mentor has been invaluable to me
  • Design a passport of care, similar to complex children in paediatrics. This will allow transfer of accurate information without explaining multiple times
  • Give mental and physical health needs equal weight
  • See that medical students and doctors with mental health conditions seeking treatment are in a difficult situation:
    • in group therapy they may meet their own patients
    • they may be more hesitant about talking about addiction issues
    • they may fear fitness to practise allegations
    • trainees rotating through six month posts can preclude them from accessing therapy for mental health problems - waiting lists are often six months, by which
    • time the trainee has moved to a different location.