Alice Gerth: What to do about junior doctor morale?

junior_docs_disputeNegotiations, four emergency care only strikes, a threatened imposition, one full strike, a referendum rejecting the contract and an imposition. It’s been an interesting few months. Many junior doctors are jaded by the experience and struggling with the continuing uncertainty: will there be further strikes, what impact will “Brexit” have upon the NHS, what will my job look like in two, let alone 10 years time?

To exacerbate things the yearly migration of junior doctors approaches. For many this means new city, new job, new responsibility. We await rotas and as such are unable to plan beyond the end of July, we do not know when we will next have a holiday or if we can attend that good friend’s wedding. Rotas this year are likely to be further delayed and covering a shorter time period as trusts awaited the results of the junior doctor vote and need to accommodate staggered transitions onto the new contract. This uncertainty is bad for morale and resilience.

Throughout the junior doctor dispute consultants have corporately supported us. However it is now that we need their individual support. As we start in new teams a smile, a friendly word, patience with us as we navigate a new computer system and the organising of a post work team trip to the pub, have the potential to make the world of difference to a job. I appreciate that consultants have their own pressures, but a few small gestures now will likely have long term benefits. We too as “senior juniors” have a responsibility for those more junior than us. This is a skill that requires development like any other and is best learnt by example. As such the support given by consultants percolates through the team and is carried on by juniors to their next job.

Colleges and the GMC are seeking to understand the issues damaging doctors’ morale and work satisfaction. It is easy to feel powerless to change things against the current background but each of us can make a difference. A smile, a kind word, and patience can make a busy day satisfying rather than draining. The further morale dips the harder it gets to change the mood, a fresh set of juniors allows a department and hospital a new start, with the opportunity to create a positive working environment, which is both good for employees and patients.

Alice Gerth is a junior doctor.

Competing Interests: Paying member of the BMA. Otherwise none.