Looking After You Too Case Study: Part-time GP Partner

Role and Context

The participant is a Partner in a GP surgery serving fourteen thousand patients. They work part time, typically working four morning sessions per week, amounting to sixteen and a half hours.  During the pandemic they worked predominantly from home, however once the vaccination programme began, they were heavily involved in their practice’s delivery of it.

Challenge of Covid-19 on own wellbeing 

The GP Partner worked from home at the start of the pandemic, often delivering telephone appointments whilst their young children were in the house. Assessing patients via telephone was challenging and unfamiliar, as was deciding which patients required face-to-face visits given the risks of the virus. These concurrent challenges put them under significant pressure, and they began to experience severe headaches.

“I just felt permanently stressed. Well, it was more a physical thing. I was getting a lot of headaches… I suppose I found it harder to think clearly… it affected my ability to do the same amount of work.”

Their partner is also a doctor working within the NHS. The requirement to home school children at the start of the pandemic led the participant to reduce their working hours to allow for childcare. As the pandemic continued and the Covid-19 case numbers fluctuated, the GP Partner found it increasingly difficult to make decisions about which patients should have been seen in person. Concern over whether they had made the correct decision became a source of anxiety.

“When it first happened, it was a lot easier because the risk was so high it felt very easy to say ‘It's not worth bringing you in’, but at times where the cases are low it becomes more tricky, because you're not quite sure whether you're making the right decision, whether the risk you’re taking is worth it.”

Once the vaccine roll-out began, the GP Partner worked predominantly in the delivery of their surgery’s vaccination clinic. In many ways, this provided some relief from the stresses of seeing patients.

“I found the vaccine clinics a little easier because you don't have to think quite so hard. But then I was losing experience clinically and not gaining the confidence with the telephone calls.”

Having never previously accessed any support services through work, they decided to enquire about the coaching service after hearing colleagues recommend it on a WhatsApp group for GPs. The service appealed because it was easy to access and flexible, enabling them to access support at home whilst their children were watching television.

How Looking After You Too coaching helped  

The GP Partner went into their first session with very few expectations. They found their coach easy to talk to and described the coaching as a unique space where they were able to speak about how their employment was affecting them personally.

The coach encouraged the GP Partner to take a personality questionnaire, with the results describing them as having a ‘strongly introverted’ personality. Realising this about themself enabled the participant to understand many of the difficulties they had been experiencing at work. With this information in mind, the participant’s coach encouraged them to take more time for themself and read books on introverted personalities.

Having spoken to the coach about the headaches they had been experiencing and reflecting on when they commonly occurred, the GP Partner recognised that they were often triggered by work anxieties. This then helped the participant and the coach reflect on practices about how to lessen their occurrence and impact.

“I learned a bit about the external triggers that applied when seeing patients - with some of the acutely unwell patients I’d be getting really nervous and that would be clouding my ability to think straight and actually deal with the situation.”

Through coaching, the GP Partner learnt several techniques to cope with anxiety whilst working with patients. These included breathing techniques and posture exercises alongside advice on how best to structure patient interactions using key phrases.

Impact of the coaching

The GP Partner’s experience of coaching has helped them to understand that their feelings of anxiety are not reflective of their clinical skills, but rather a separate issue which they can attempt to mitigate.

So much of it is just understanding and knowing that it's anxiety that's causing the problem and not because I don't know what to do, that just helps.”

The GP Partner has found more enjoyment in patient interactions, something they feel benefits patient care. The anxiety reduction has also positively affected their home life, where they feel they are better company to their partner and children.

“I think patient care has been improved because not being so anxious and worried about things allows you to communicate better and be more responsive to the patients cues as well.”

The three coaching sessions the GP Partner received were a significant improvement on the support they had previously received. They felt that if they had not accessed the service during the pandemic, they most likely would have experienced a deterioration in their mental health and required further support themselves.

“In fact, when I was a trainee, I did struggle. I didn't really get any help with that, I asked one of the trainers “what support is there, if I'm struggling when I'm qualified?” and she said “oh, none”. So, I was really, really pleased when this came out, and I think this could have probably helped me at any stage early on in my career, not just the pandemic.”