Changing the conversation about health

Creating resilience: preventing GP burnout

GP burnout is reaching epic proportions, and disturbingly some of those most affected are younger doctors. What can we do to restore their resilience – and their empathy for patients


In 2012, Dr Chris Manning of the College of Medicine’s Mental Health Group worked with Pulse and Prof Clare Gerada of the Royal College of General Practitioners to create a survey on GP burnout.  Among the first 2,000 GPs to complete the survey on Pulse’s website, the results are disturbing:

  • 41% experienced high levels of depersonalisation, 27% moderate, 32% low
  • 72% had high levels of emotional exhaustion, 18% moderate, 10% low
  • 97% reported low levels of personal accomplishment, 2% moderate, 1% low

Speaking to Pulse one GP who eventually took early retirement said “The stress would pile up and by 10am you’ve already reached rock bottom.  I was very sad I couldn’t express my care for patients how I used to.  I didn’t like what I was doing any more.  I thought ‘What’s the point?’ I didn’t want to become one of those doctors who doesn’t listen to their patients any more and reaches for the prescription pad.”

Read the pages from Pulse about our Resilience survey.

…and Resilience

So what are the solutions?

Dr Alastair Dobbin spoke about his successful scheme for improving mental health, both for GPs and patients.  He set up the Foundation for Positive Mental Health, which has developed a simple mental health programme which can be used at home – based on a reorientation of material used by Olympic athletes since the 1960s.  The programme can be taken in two afternoons and is based on recorded tracks which tap into hypnotherapy and physical and mental relaxation techniques.  The course also teaches good breathing and builds positive emotion.  A GP can explain it to a patient during a ten minute consultation.

But increasingly, Dr Dobbin found that GPs were using the programme to manage their own stress.  The programme has since been trialled in occupational medicine in GP services Scotland, has been studied at two universities and was accredited by the Royal College of General Practitioners in 2012.  850 staff have now been trained to teach the techniques.  Further research has showed that using these techniques, GPs have been able to recover feelings of empathy, compassion and generosity.

Getting started for greater resilience

The Foundation for Positive Mental Health carries basic breathing exercises on its website that anyone can use – patient, GP or Olympic Athlete – to help you tap into your inner resources and begin to feel better straight away.