GP Katya Miles has transformed her career from caring for patients, to empowering doctors to take care of their own health and wellbeing.
The UK-based doctor founded the ‘Working Well Doctor’ to provide wellbeing training for health professionals. With a background in occupational health, she understands the importance of work, but she also understands the impact of burnout and anxiety – and how stigmas can prevent us from seeking help.
“I have had my struggles with anxiety and burnout and, like so many of us, I struggled to work in medicine while juggling all my caring roles both inside and outside work,” says Dr Kayta, “I had problems in my pregnancies and two emergency Caesareans along with a miscarriage all of which affected my anxiety levels too.
“Stigma was a huge barrier to me seeking help, along with feeling I did not have permission to care for myself – after all isn't being a doctor all about caring for others? And having a newborn too? I also felt isolated which, on reflection, had a powerful effect.”
Doctor Wellbeing: Who cares for the carers?
Dr Katya decided that she wanted to make a difference in the lives of people who care. She decided to start the Working Well Doctor website and training platform to share her wellbeing expertise and lived experience, to reduce stigma, and to help other doctors (particularly parents) feel less alone.
Based on her knowledge and experience of having anxiety when working as a doctor, she’s developed a Wellbeing Toolkit to help others manage. Part of this toolkit is reminding ourselves of the choices we can make:
“It can feel, in the midst of the pandemic, that many choices are taken from us; and some choices of course are, like the choice of when to take annual leave or even when to eat lunch on a busy shift. But the small daily choices are often still ours to make, the choice of what to eat, when to sleep (if we aren't on night shift).
“Relishing these can be really powerful. And the longer-term choices are still ours too – like how do I want to develop my career in the mid to long term? What parts of my work do I love, and how can I make career choices that maximise these?”
Reducing anxiety in 2020
It’s been a stressful year for, well, pretty much everyone. But our always-switched-on world can compound this. Dr Katya says reducing screen time and taking a break from 24-hour news and social media cycles is an important step in improving mental health.
She recently took a break from social media:
“In our 24/7 world, where it's possible to always be 'connected to a screen', media consumption can be detrimental to many people's mental health, including mine. There is evidence that looking at screens before bed affects sleep quality, so one tip I discuss in my Wellbeing Workshops is to use a 'good old fashioned' alarm clock and leave your screens outside the bedroom.
“In addition, the content on some social media and on the news, especially in the midst of the pandemic, can be quite downbeat, which can also increase anxiety in many people, me included. Yet we all need to be abreast of current developments in a rapidly changing world, for our own lives and of course to keep abreast of the latest developments for our work. I find that rationing my use of news and social media helps. I try to limit the time each day I consume both.
“I also find that watching television news more of an anxiety trigger than reading it, so I have chosen to read my news not watch it. However, I am active on Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn as these are powerful ways to connect with a community of like-minded people, share ideas and enjoy connection, especially when we are all socially distanced. So, it's a question of walking the fine line, which maximizes the benefits whilst reducing the risks, of social media use.”
The Declaration of Geneva
In 2016, Dr Sam Hazledine and the Medworld community changed the Declaration of Geneva to include the need for doctors to take care of their own wellbeing in the oath.
Formal acknowledgement is a big step forwards, and Dr Katya was supportive of the move, but says that progress in the UK has been “slow going”.
“The pandemic has meant a huge pressure on healthcare providers globally, and here in the UK, there has been an increase in doctors seeking help and reporting mental health issues. However, the change to the Declaration of Geneva is crucially important, as we need it even more at a time like this.
“I often quote it in my Wellbeing Workshops to underpin the critical point that we need permission to look after ourselves, now more than ever. We have to put our oxygen masks on first before helping others; this pandemic is a marathon, not a sprint, so we need to be looking after ourselves in order to remain well in the long term. Without this we cannot help others.
“A silver lining of the pandemic is that momentum is gathering towards acknowledging that doctors need to attend to their health and wellbeing. Platforms like Medworld are a wonderful part of this narrative and I am honoured to be featured here. However, when workplace demands are high, it remains tough for many. My sense is, at present, due to the demands of the pandemic, it is slow going.”
Finding and accessing help
“I am passionate about helping as many doctors as possible to thrive, especially during this pandemic. Women in medicine often juggle many caring roles and still face challenges due to their gender across many parts of life. There is some evidence* they have more struggles with anxiety (like I did),” says Dr Katya.
Dr Katya wants to help doctors – and female medics in particular – to thrive. She’s kindly offered her Wellbeing Workshops as a beta course, as well as free one-on-one sessions; “I am calling them 'Thrive Chats'. Because despite the seriousness, we need to make space for fun too!”
If you’d like to find out more, visit workingwelldoctor.com
(*Reference: Beneath the White Coat: Doctors, Their Minds & Mental Health, Dr Clare Gerada 2020. p88 – or see this video link discussing the book.)