Careering Ahead

Self-reflection helps overcome professional crisis

This week, the GMC revealed that the likelihood that it would investigate a doctor had increased from one in 68 in 2010 to one in 64 in 2011 after another rise in the number of complaints it had received.

The GMC was at pains to point out that only a very small number of doctors had fallen seriously below the standards expected – only 65 were erased from the medical register and 93 were suspended – but regardless of these odds, many doctors whose conduct or competence has been questioned by the GMC, or perhaps an employer, colleague or patient are badly shaken by the experience and find it all too easy to imagine their whole career going into meltdown.

Even after the matter has been resolved, many find it difficult to pick up their career where they left off.

This is not a wholly bad thing. Doctors are expected to reflect on their practice and how they can learn from what has gone wrong: remediation is central to the GMC’s fitness to practise procedures and reflection is encouraged during the whole practice appraisals which will take place as part of revalidation. If a doctor improves his communication skills or record-keeping in response to an investigation, it can only benefit them and their patients.

However, if a doctor dwells excessively on what has happened, it can lead them to doubt whether they are in the right specialty or even the right profession. Some feel they have been dealt with unjustly and get angry; others fall into despair.

Medics often need professional help to overcome this kind of career crisis, not to mention the support of their family and friends. However, there are some techniques they can try for themselves.

For example, I always advise doctors to think about the reasons they first wanted to join the profession and how working as a doctor made them feel when all was going well. I’m not advocating misty-eyed nostalgia but by looking at their career from a more positive mindset, rather than in a mood of unalloyed gloom, it should then be easier to focus on the areas of their work they find most fulfilling, whether it is interactions with a specific group of patients, managing a clinical research project or perhaps working within a large team.

As well as highlighting just how far doctors in difficulty have travelled from the type of work they actually enjoy, this exercise is often the perfect starting point for revising their career plans and recapturing some of that earlier enthusiasm.

No one could deny that a GMC letter represents a professional crisis for any doctor but with resilience and the right support it is possible to turn the situation to their advantage so becomes a watershed moment and not a career dead end.

Healthcare Performance was established by two doctors with over 30 years’ experience of clinical governance and medico-legal work, specialising in careers coaching, professional development and organisational trouble-shooting within the healthcare sector.

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