Doctors' Wellbeing - Where's the Hope?

I’ve been thinking a lot about hope this week.

I led a teaching session earlier in the week - talking with a group of London psychiatry trainees about Doctors’ Wellbeing. It went well for the most part... The doctors were engaged and interactive, open and honest - and we talked and explored a lot of the complex issues involved with the wellbeing of doctors. Until we stumbled over a sticking point...


We identified the lack of optimism and hope amongst doctors at the moment and I said ‘doctors are human beings and all human beings need hope’.

And then I asked them...

‘Where will the hope come from?’

And there was silence. Followed by avoidance. A nervous laugh here... An intellectual diversion there... But still no hope.

So I called it. And we discussed it...

We talked about how horrible it feels to stare into the future and not see a way out. How the state of pessimism and demoralisation amongst doctors across the country at the moment mirrors the painful resolution we see in our most suicidal patients. After all, without hope human beings die - quite literally.

Unnervingly we stuttered on together - searching, desperate... but we simply couldn’t say where the hope we so desperately needed would come from.

All I could say to allay their anxiety (and my own) was: ‘it will come, it always does’.

And I can tell you that the hope will return with absolute certainty because I have been to the brink of suicide and returned myself on more than one occasion. I live with an illness that carries a 15% suicide rate - and yet I still have hope. I have seen hopeless doctors regain hope time and time again in recent years. Hope is simply one of the many cyclical human states that we repeatedly fall in and out of over time. 

So I knew the hope would come. But I still couldn’t say where it would come from... 

Then I drove to a funeral. The funeral of a man I admired and loved although I knew him little. And from his funeral came the answer. In his own words...

In the months before his death he had taken time to write his autobiography and written to his children some words so elegant they stopped me in my tracks. He wrote that he had no great wisdom or advice to impart - but what he had to give in his final days was this - love... and hope.

And then it clicked.

The hope will come from us. It is residing within us already. Within me, within you - it will come from within each of us, within each other. When some of us lack it - others will carry it. And when the hopeful struggle others will pick up the mantle. And so it goes on... and the hope will grow again.

Like a candle in a darkened room, the hope of one doctor will light the way for countless others. Those who have found a job they love and a good life balance will light the way for those struggling to get out of bed each day. Those who have left medicine to forge a new path in life will light the way for those too scared to leave. And so on and so on... the hope will spread.

We don’t have to worry about where the hope will come from. It is here amongst us now - we just need to let it shine.


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