Covid-19—will this second phase be harder than the first?

We are now entering the second phase of covid-19, the so called “recovery” stage, sandwiched between the crisis and rebuilding phase. As the frenetic pace of the last few weeks begins to slow down, doctors are drawing breath, reflecting and learning from their recent experiences. From what we hear from many approaching our service, and from the stories we hear from other healthcare professionals, there is a sense that despite facing considerable ongoing uncertainty, they do not want to return to the “pre-covid” days of working.

Doctors, who were dangerously close to burning out, have been given an unexpected chance to re-set their professional lives and work-life balance. They are valuing the return to team working, the reduction in intensity of work, the ability to stop and think with others and to connect with their colleagues in the real, and virtual world. They have experienced (many for the first time in their professional lives) the joy of professionalism, of being able to use their skills and make decisions without the constant need to “check things out” or make a record in their e-portfolio. They have even been spared the joyless task of completing mandatory training, and instead are being trusted to make their own choice of training needs, based on self-determined gaps. Paradoxically, in this virtual world some doctors are also experiencing a deeper sense of belonging than ever before, as daily huddles and virtual tea breaks connect them to each other in new and meaningful ways.

So, while the first phase of covid has left many of us feeling fatigued, anxious, traumatised and grieving, there is also hope that the “new normal” may bring with it a fresh perspective on what matters and what we really need to do to thrive as doctors. The focus on workforce well-being by policy makers, politicians and employers has been gratefully received.  Perhaps the legacy of covid-19 will be to drill home how important it is to look after ourselves and each other if we are to have any chance of looking after others as well.

Our three top tips for adjusting to a “new normal,” whatever that may look like for you and your team:

  • Adjust your expectations, give yourself time (many months) to adapt, do not expect to jump straight back into “life as normal’ again
  • Stay connected to your support networks and those you love; this is important to protect against mental health challenges following a crisis
  • Make conscious choices about how you spend your time, for example how you separate work from the rest of your life, and mark in your diary 30 mins of “review-time” every 4-6 weeks to check in and make any adjustments needed


  • Listen to a BMJ podcast with Caroline Walker about how to cope with feelings of covid fatigue as part of our wellbeing podcast series

Clare Gerada, Medical Director of NHS Practitioner Health and Chair Doctors In Distress (registered charity).

Caroline Walker, Psychiatrist and therapist at NHS Practitioner Health and Founder of The Joyful Doctor.

Competing interests: None declared  

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