A Bike, a Hike, and a Disney Flick: How Doctors Cope With the Pandemic

Peter Russell

January 08, 2021

Doctors taking part in this year's virtual Royal College of Physicians (RCP) conference unanimously agree on one thing: the last 12 months have not only been unprecedented, they have also tested the health system, and the professionals who staff it, to the limits.

In his opening conference remarks, RCP President, Prof Andrew Goddard, urged delegates to "take a break" from dealing with COVID-19.

Dr Mahmood Ahmed/RCP

Perhaps then, unsurprising that the conference has featured exercise routines, yoga sessions, and even a cooking demonstration by a junior doctor who won Masterchef. But how do health professionals achieve downtime from this challenging episode in the history of the health service?

The question came up during a question and answer session involving some key figures in the world of health. Prof Áine Burns, vice president for education and training at the RCP, asked about coping strategies when the profession had "worked very hard to support the mental health of our colleagues".

"To me, it's been getting on the bike," revealed Prof Goddard. Early morning rides were "a wonderful time just to feel pain in a different way" and "allows me to get all my thoughts in, and get outside".

It's understandable to expect that Prof Chris Whitty, England's chief medical officer, who has been one of the most familiar faces of the pandemic due to his regular appearance at Downing Street briefings, might have little time for recreation.

The man famous for his catchphrase 'next slide please' appreciates team meetings on Zoom and other platforms to help him through.

"That's what really keeps me sane and everyone else around me sane in the difficult times," he said.

Prof Mala Rao, adviser to NHS England on workforce race equality confided that if she couldn't exercise during the day, "I fret". She said "lovely, long walks" were her solace.

Currently unable to meet her close family in person, she has developed virtual alternatives. "We've set up a literacy society of our own – every month we have an evening when we discuss books."

Prof Anton Emmanuel, clinical lead for the NHS workforce race equality standard programme confessed that his downtime was "deeply less highbrow".

"I've watched a lot of Disney," he admitted. "My favourite princess changes week by week."

Once the TV is switched off, Prof Emmanuel said he had taken to writing "appalling sonnets", adding, "I can't believe I wrote such rubbish".

Dr Navina Evans, chief executive of Health Education England emphasised it was "really important to take time for yourself".

"I've been learning to play the concertina," she admitted.

"Next year I'll play for you."


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.
Post as: