How to navigate stress and burnout as a Doctor


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It’s no secret that life as a doctor can be fairly relentless – and that’s putting it gently. 

Whether it be the long hours, high workload or regulatory demands, working in healthcare is often associated with two unwelcome emotions: stress and burnout. 

The start of the year may often intensify these feelings already. But extended waiting lists are now only amplifying the situation, adding to the strain and pressures already put on NHS and private healthcare workers.

That’s why we wanted to help. 

As a specialist insurance broker, we have helped numerous consultants and surgeons find peace of mind in their medical indemnity insurance policies, alleviating some of the stress often associated with working in the industry. 

In this blog, we share some of our top tips, helping you learn how to manage feelings of stress and burnout effectively while working as a doctor. 

An overview of the current landscape

According to a report published by the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee, 92% of NHS trusts were said to have concerns over staff wellbeing, stress and burnout following the COVID-19 pandemic – and it’s not hard to see why. 

With NHS waiting lists now thought to total at least 7.4 million, resources are stretched and, with that, so are personnel. 

In fact, according to a recent survey published in the British Medical Journal, only 27% of people working in the NHS feel that there are enough staff in their organisation to allow them to do their jobs properly, resulting in tens of thousands of patients having their care either postponed or rescheduled.

To deal with this impact, a huge surge in demand has been seen within private medical care; a recent YouGov poll found that one in six individuals now circumvent the challenges of being treated in the NHS by turning to private providers. 

While many may see this as a good thing, the increased demand has placed a huge additional pressure on doctors across the NHS and private sector, leading to higher levels of stress and burnout. 

Our top tips for managing stress

As a doctor, you may be specially trained to spot the signs and symptoms of certain conditions in patients, but it’s also crucial to recognise the signs of burnout in yourself. 

Being in such a high-pressure working environment, the responsibilities you have can have a huge impact on both your and your patient’s lives. Therefore, it’s important to remain as self-aware as possible and take the time to manage your stress level effectively.

In doing so, you will not only help improve your mental wellbeing, but you will also reduce the likelihood of any incidents of misdiagnosis, negligence or malpractice. 

This also correlates with the General Medical Council’s recently updated Good Medical Practice 2024 guidelines. As part of Domain 3: Colleagues, culture & safety, the guidelines state: “Good medical professionals communicate clearly and work effectively with colleagues in the interests of patients. 

“They develop their self-awareness, manage their impact on others, and do what they can to help create civil and compassionate cultures where all staff can ask questions, talk about errors and raise concerns safely.“

So with this in mind, listed below are some top tips to manage stress more easily while working as a doctor. 

Recognise your stress level 

Prioritise yourself and don’t ignore or downplay your personal well-being over others. 

Look out for any signs of persistent exhaustion, feeling anxious before a shift, a lack of motivation and compromised patient safety. Then, seek support if or when you do.

Take control over factors you can change 

Small changes can make a significant difference. Even simple things like keeping a better track record of your face-to-face patient documentation and informed consent forms can help you feel more in control of administrative tasks and better able to negotiate workload adjustments. 

Set firm boundaries and speak up

Establish clear and realistic boundaries around your workload and responsibilities. Where possible, learn to say no to any extra work or commitments that may contribute to excessive stress or burnout. 

If you have concerns that a colleague may not be fit to practice due to mental health and could be putting patients at risk, don’t be afraid to speak up and seek advice. As per the GMC’s updated guidelines, patient safety needs to come first. 

Lean on your colleagues

Despite your time constraints, actively engage in quick chats or coffee breaks with colleagues. 

Building a support network within the workplace can provide an important outlet for you to share your personal challenges and develop coping strategies. It can also work the other way around. 

As per paragraphs 50 and 51 of the GMC’s Good Medical Practice guidelines, it’s important to be ‘compassionate towards colleagues who have problems with their performance or health’ while also remaining ‘accessible to colleagues seeking information, advice or support’. 

Prioritise self-care away from the workplace

The ongoing pressures of working as a doctor can impair your ability to concentrate and make decisions effectively. This can then have a huge knock-on effect on your personal safety, with overly tired doctors shown to have a higher risk of on-road collisions. 

Where possible, try to implement healthy living strategies while you’re away from work, making sure you get enough sleep, regular exercise and maintain a balanced diet.

Use supportive helplines

If in doubt, reach out to specific mental health helplines for advice and support. These can offer confidential and professional support for the unique challenges faced by healthcare professionals, helping you take back control of your day-to-day activities while prioritising your own health and wellbeing. 

Review your medical indemnity policy

Patient claims can be a huge source of stress for many healthcare professionals, which is why having comprehensive medical indemnity coverage in place is so important. 

As part of the GMC’s updated guidelines, they highlight the need to ‘keep your level of cover under regular review’ to ensure you are suitably protected. Therefore, by staying informed about the terms and conditions of your coverage, you can then get back to focusing on what you do best: delivering quality care to patients.

Trust Howden for peace of mind

With the increased demand for private medical services, managing your stress levels is crucial from both a physical and psychological perspective. 

Here at Howden, we can provide you with some peace of mind in your role through our medical indemnity insurance policies. By tailoring our coverage around you – your age, career, roles and responsibilities – we can help ensure you are suitably protected should a medical negligence or malpractice claim ever be made against you. 

We also have various partner-led helplines available for you to access as part of your policy, offering expert-led advice on a wide range of subjects, including medico-legal support and mental health counselling. 

To find out more about switching your policy to us, or if you would like us to review your policy, get in touch and we’d be more than happy to help. 

    We can arrange the cover you need