Sometimes it’s OK to lift the pedal

When you feel frustration, burnout, even dread, but that you should somehow cope with all that work and life throws at you... Sometimes, says RCPCH Dinwoodie Clinical Fellow, Dr Jess Morgan, you say, I’m not sure I can do this right now.
icon: two hands shaped around a symbolic heart that has a medical cross in the middle of it

I was exhausted. Running on empty. Empathy replaced with irritability and frustration at a system that felt broken and failed to value its own. Burnout. Yet I was still taking on projects, teaching medical students, writing up minutes of meetings at 11pm, diligently piling my portfolio full of reflections, all on top of my clinical work. All in the name of being a ‘good trainee’. And yet I was breaking. I remember my supervisor sitting me down.

He said, “Look, I think you need to lift the pedal. I’m not saying this because you can’t do it, I’m saying it to give you some headspace.”

Dread. A real sense of failure, like somehow, I should be able to cope with all this whilst juggling two small children and life events outside of work. But in that moment, he gave me permission. Permission to slow down. Together we figured out which of these additional activities and projects I should put on hold and where I should focus the little energy I had left. Sometimes it takes a supportive colleague to help us see these things.

There’s a culture in medicine, one that makes us believe that success is built on achievement. The more projects we agree to, the more boxes we tick on application forms and the more dedicated we seem to our profession. But sometimes, we need to accept that life happens, that there are phases when taking on additional projects puts a huge amount of strain on us, and in those moments, it’s OK to reach out and say, I’m not sure I can do this right now. 

Thrive Paediatrics is an RCPCH project aimed at promoting happier more fulfilled careers in our specialty. Part of this comes through culture change, through being more open to this kind of conversation, through looking out for each other and giving our colleagues permission to lift the pedal from time to time. 

We are hearing stories from paediatricians up and down the country who are finding things tough right now. Unsurprising really! We want to support you to move from a position of powerlessness, to felling able to activate systems and culture change in a bid to improve the working lives of your colleagues. Nothing is too big or too small- be it a corridor conversation, a cup of tea after ward round, or a trust level campaign, together we can do this.

As part of Thrive, we are creating regional communities of paediatricians that will share stories and use RCPCH resources to implement interventions that will drive change. If you’re interested in being involved, please email thrive@rcpch.ac.uk.

This is about you, about us and about making our working lives better.