This summary is a reflection of the slides and discussions that took place during the evening meeting on ‘Contemporary Challenges for the NHS Consultant’ on the 29th November 2016.   The focus of the talk was around looking after ourselves and our colleagues.


Doctors are people who may become patients.  Doctors are just as likely to become ill as anyone else but are more likely to survive major illness and should expect a longer life expectancy than many in the population – just because of what we do and the positive impact that has on our health.

However, the first thing to accept is that ill health whilst not inevitable is fairly likely to affect you or a colleague at some point.  Recognising this when it happens is the first hurdle – we are not always good at doing so.  Listen to those around you if they are asking if you are okay or are expressing concern.  Try not to answer “How are you?” with “I’m fine.” if you’re not.

The second thing is to access care through the normal routes.  See your GP.  Register with a GP now if you haven’t already.  Do not put colleagues in a difficult situation with a corridor or coffee table conversation for advice or consultation.  Behave like a patient and engage with your doctor meaningfully.  Listen to their advice as they have your best interests at the core of what they do.  If you are the doctor seeing a colleague insist on a referral and use the existing care pathways- they are there with good reason.

Finally, consider – does the patient always come first?  We are reluctant to take the time needed to attend for our own healthcare needs or to take time off work because we are acutely aware of the impact on patients and colleagues.  Why risk patient safety, patient welfare, and our ongoing relationship with the patient by being at work when we are not well?

We may also see a colleague from time to time struggling at work.  Take the time to ask “How are you?” and don’t just accept “I’m fine.”  Offer to have a chat, buy a coffee, and listen.  You may be surprised with the benefit you can bring with an expression of concern and the offer of some support.

Doctors express concern about medicine being a tough career.  Yes, there are many challenges but generally there are a greater number of rewards.  Doctors also express concern about their jobs affecting their health and indeed it may do at times.  However, the evidence is clear and unequivocal and has been so for nearly 40 years – working as a doctor, for the majority of us, is hugely beneficial for our health. If we look after ourselves (and our colleagues) we can expect long healthy and happy working lives.

Practical tips

  • Work hard at work and work equally hard at playing – work life balance is important
  • Look after yourself – accept concern and offers of support - we are just people too!
  • Look after your colleagues – we are people but at times we behave too much like doctors
  • Enjoy medicine: it’s a great career but do have some fun on the way!
  • There are numerous sources to access help, GP, BMA support service and occupational health

Speaker: Dr Alastair Leckie, Consultant in Occupational Medicine, Director NHS Lothian Occupational Health and Safety Service. 

Reviewed January 2018 & tips updated September 2021.