Are you alright Phil?
By Dr Philip Riddell
The voice seemed so distant at first as I was scrolling through my phone. It was 6:30pm. I should have finished my shift over an hour ago and here I was, sat on a bench outside of work.
I turned around to see a colleague from one of my previous ward placements sat in his van, leaning towards the window with a smile on his face. His smile was completely infectious – I had to respond with a smile of my own. I was in fact absolutely fine, I had been waiting for a group of students who I am due to be teaching this year and was passing the time as a screen slave.
We often talk about ‘safety in healthcare’ as a topic that focused upon our patients. As teams, we focus on keeping them safe. But, as we know from recent media articles, the pressures of the job can become too much for all of us at times. Can we keep each other safe when this happens?
When my colleague pulled over to see if things were OK, he didn’t know about the challenges that I had faced as a medical student. There have been times where my own mental health had been pushed beyond what could be considered its normal limits. Whilst I am well on the way to recovery from my lowest point, I doubt I will ever be the same person that I was before my episode.
Working in the NHS is extremely rewarding. But these rewards are not without sacrifice. We miss important personal events, our sleeping routine is erratic and sometimes, we can struggle to complete even the simplest of household tasks. Yet we continue to provide safe care for our patients.
One thing that I have learnt over the last twelve months as a doctor is that I feel that my patients are safe when I feel safe myself. This applies not only to good clinical support from seniors, but also good pastoral support from my colleagues. I feel this pastoral support can be created by a few things:
- A team with a collective goal. Individuals working together to achieve a common goal often support each other in many different ways. Most importantly, they support each other when individuals are struggling.
- Encouraging each other to share who we really are. Each member of staff, each patient, is a completely unique person within the healthcare system. Whilst we take on the mantle of our job role at work, we do our best to do other things outside of the hospital. We can be parents, triathletes, knitters or star bakers. I feel safer when I know colleagues for who they are, rather than their role.
- Small acts of kindness. A round of coffees, a hello in the corridor. Pulling over to check on a colleague on your way out of work. These small acts of kindness require little effort, but can mean the difference to everyone, whether that be staff or patients. They may not do anything to change the difficulties we all face in keeping our patients safe, but they do contribute to a sense of collective support and safety.
I’m not sure if this person knows the impact that he had on me that evening. But I hope that I can emulate the kindness that he showed to me. After all, looking after my colleagues will help improve the safety of our patients.
Questions to ask yourself / your team;
- Does your team have a collective goal that you can support each other with?
- What do you know about your colleagues outside of their work roles?
- When was the last time you did something kind for your colleagues?
About the author;
Phil Riddell is a Foundation Year doctor working within East Anglia after graduating from Medical School in 2017. After positive experiences at Medical School, he is planning on pursuing a career within the field of Patient Safety.