A message to the profession by GMC Chair Professor Dame Carrie MacEwen

Winter is upon us and I know many of you will be feeling apprehensive about the months ahead. Our patients are sicker, there are more of them and our ability to treat them is being tested. This is creating unprecedented pressure – on both the health service and the professionals who staff it.

I see this in my own work as an ophthalmologist, where patient delays and demand are at an all-time high, in conversations with my daughter, a junior doctor, and from the discussions I have as Chair of the GMC. After two gruelling years of Covid, the unrelenting, outstanding need for care is leaving doctors drained.

Many of the challenges we face, be it the shortfall in staff or squeeze on resources, are outside our control. What we can influence, however, is how we treat ourselves and each other.

Many of you will have heard the sad news that Dame Clare Marx, former Chair of the GMC and a dear personal friend of mine, died a few weeks ago from metastatic pancreatic cancer.

When the diagnosis led to her standing down as Chair, Clare wrote a message to the profession. Re-reading this recently, I was struck by what she said about the importance of kindness in everything we do as doctors – and how important that kindness had become to her when she was on the receiving end of care.

Whether it’s the empathy with which we break bad news to a patient, or the consideration we show to a colleague who’s having a bad day, our behaviours undoubtedly shape our experiences as clinicians.

How we interact with those around us is a choice, and choosing respect, compassion and understanding is as important to our practice as clinical skills. Pressure can push them down the priority list, but in these stressful times, sensitivity and professionalism are even more critical.

As well as caring for our patients, we must care for ourselves. Reflect on the lives you, as a doctor, have touched over the past year. Being kind to ourselves means taking pride in the positive contributions we make, even when the intensity of work overshadows them.

Please don’t forget that asking for help and supporting one another are core functions of good professional practice. As Clare said, in tough moments, it is the support of our colleagues that pulls us back up.

With all best wishes of the season.

Carrie MacEwen