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Managing occupational stress

Lessons from aviation

Aircraft safety demonstrations always encourage parents to put on the oxygen delivery mask before they assist their child to do the same. While this seems counterintuitive at one level it is couched in the logic that the parent has to be able to act to protect the safety of the child so self-preservation initially needs to come into play.

When it comes to managing occupational stress, the same rule needs to be applied for medical practitioners. Doctors cannot take good care of other people if they do not take good care of themselves.

Know your limits and act

Despite this adage, it is often believed that doctors are poor at taking care of their own welfare and lack an appreciation of their personal limitations, often falling into the trap of feeling pressured to working at all costs, even when unwell. The very nature of medical practice means it is inevitable there will be a certain levels of stress but the critical point is recognising when stress becomes distress.

Being able to maintain a healthy equilibrium depends on how well you care for your own needs, whether you allow yourself to seek support at difficult times and whether you have the capacity to build up resilience to ride out the inevitable distressing times.

Working excessively long hours increases the potential for error and over time, fatigue impairs judgment and the capacity to cope. A flow on effect is that relationships with family, friends and colleagues can be affected because there is not enough emotional and physical reserve to sustain healthy relationships.

Relationship impacts

Unfortunately, this can also spill over into how you relate to your patients. In Avant’s experience practitioners in the midst of a particularly stressful time, whether it is because of personal matters or work pressures, are more vulnerable to mistakes. This leads to a reduced capacity to relate well and effectively with patients and colleagues, which in turn increases the risk of complaints further.

It is a cycle that is best avoided so at these times it is very important to seek support from family and friends, colleagues and from Avant’s expert staff. An added safety and support net is accessing a professional body such as the Doctors’ Health Advisory Service in your state.

Reach out for self preservation

Many practitioners facing a complaint or litigation process find the experience very distressing and confronting. The good news is that studies suggest that the long-term effects of complaints and claims are far less enduring when practitioners are supported through the process. Making contact is a key to getting through tough times.


Managing occupational stress

  • Familiarise yourself with local peer networks through CPD activities or social activities.
  • Actively seek out someone you trust and respect to confide in when something is bothering you – it will help you through it.
  • Keep work pressure under control by ensuring you take regular breaks throughout the day.
  • Appointment scheduling should allow sufficient time during the day for breaks, catching up on paperwork and returning phone calls.
  • Make sure you have your own GP and attend regular appointments.
  • If you receive a complaint make sure you contact Avant immediately.
  • Have a balanced lifestyle that incorporates exercise, time out and holidays.

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