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Overcoming loneliness in the isolating world of medicine.

"I’ve been at work for 12hours and everyone I’ve spoken to has been a complete stranger.” I often find myself saying this to my medic friends during our catch-up phone calls. It’s difficult to imagine that being surrounded by patients and colleagues all day can still result in the feeling of loneliness.

Despite the constant human interaction and buzzwords like ‘teamwork’, medicine can be one of the loneliest professions. Loneliness – the resulting negative emotional response to the perceived degree of isolation.

When we hear the word loneliness, the mental image is typically that of a frail, old lady; but loneliness can occur at any stage in life. The competitive nature of medicine can often leave medical students and trainee doctors feeling alone whilst surrounded by many. Success in medicine is often associated with solitary work such as putting in long hours to study rather than seeing friends, attempting to get a publication or trying to meet that ARCP deadline. This can often make us vulnerable to social isolation and the feeling of loneliness.

The work we do can be lonely in itself. We are privileged to be in a position to see people at their most vulnerable or be their only source of strength during what may be their most difficult time in life. The emotional burnout we often face and the unspoken rule of not showing weakness means we often hesitate to talk about our struggles. This can sometimes leave us feeling more isolated than ever. Your colleague may not ask for help openly, it may be in the way they slowly retreat from social interactions, it may be in their voice or their body language and this may be the perfect time for you to ask, “Is everything alright?”

Dr Rose-Anne Nunoo, CT1 ACCS trainee shares her tips to combat loneliness.

The feeling of loneliness does not mean you're alone - it's a normal human reaction to dealing with life’s difficult circumstances such as the constant movement throughout our career. This means that medicine sometimes makes it difficult to maintain our social circles. The impossible task of trying to reconnect with loved ones around an on-call rota is often a breeding ground for loneliness. Sometimes trying to explain this to your non-medic loved ones feels as though you’re speaking a completely different language. Next thing you know, the days and weeks of not being able to reconnect turn into months and sometimes years.

Here are my tips to help combat loneliness:

  1. Understand that feeling lonely is normal and is usually a signal to act on your current relationships.

  2. If you are new to a town or city, try to find your own tribe; if you run join a running club or if you go to the gym, go to a class. Be sure to find your community.

  3. Learn to leave work on time without feeling guilty. Looking after yourself is just as important as looking after your patients.

  4. Be part of the Doctors' Mess! It's a great way to meet others and have a life outside of work and increasing our connections with like-minded individuals.

  5. Remember to create a good work life schedule to allow you to reconnect with others.

  6. Always speak to someone be it a friend a colleague or relative or well-being service on those difficult days.


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