Managing your Fear Of Missing Out … On a Conference

In my first blog I focused on my life as a new GP, this time I would like to talk about an essential area of GP life – Continued Professional Development (CPD). As I started settling in to my new job it was clear that I wanted to engage the learning part of my brain that had been dormant since I completed my MRCGP exam. What struck me this year was the difference in study leave – I had taken for granted the numerous days that are available to trainees compared to the minimal amount a GP can use. I suppose I still have that trainee mentality. I still have the desire to learn more and I feel 8 days a year is not enough! This also meant that I had to be incredibly particular in what I chose for my precious study leave days. 

Choosing a course is fun and exciting, because as the attendee you establish the criteria – for example, my criteria are as follows: location, subject, and food (okay the last one is not a serious priority – hot food is always a bonus though). The location of the course is important and I personally prefer to get public transport so I can relax, listen to a podcast, read the newspaper etc. Regarding the subject matter, I decided to attend the following 4 courses since January 2017:

1) GP update 

I chose the GP update course as I wanted to consolidate my knowledge and channel it through the lens of a practicing GP – it was a day-course on latest guidelines and I found it incredibly useful. It also provided me with resources that I will continue to use in my practice (such as online and physical handbooks for future reference and additional CPD work). I liked this course as it will help me to continually apply new knowledge in practical ways.

2) Leadership and Management 

Since I started to work as a GP, I had taken on a new leadership role as the lead GP of a MDT team at an intermediate care home and accepted the role as First 5 Lead GP for the RCGP SW Thames Faculty. These 2 new roles have simultaneously filled me with immense excitement and a little trepidation. I recognised that leadership was a clear area of weakness and I wished to attend a course to bolster my confidence and skill-set. I was particularly interested in exploring prioritisation and delegation techniques. This was the area that I wanted to improve the most as after training there is a steep learning curve, where you start taking on numerous responsibilities at the same time, which one simply cannot prepare for.

The course that I had chosen focused on leadership, management and thriving as a GP. I particularly liked what it had at its core – looking after a  GP’s well-being – learning to manage yourself, understanding your own needs, managing stress and time, and negotiating relationships and interpersonal conflict. It also focused on who a GP works with. Managing up, and relating well both up and down and focusing on motivating others by example! We also focused on the practice and how we can improve its efficiency- how to start projects and what does improvement look like in the context of a fully functioning and successful practice. Finally, we looked at the GP’s role with regards to their wider organisations – partnerships, CCGs, LMCs  and local communities.

My preconceptions was that this course was just going to be about leadership but was pleasantly surprised how much it focused on the team and how I should look after myself – so much more holistic than I thought and I loved that! This course provided me with a lot of confidence and interestingly, I had to apply my new skills a few weeks after the course when having to deal with 2 members of the MDT meeting who were arguing. I was prepared to tackle this conflict as I had remembered the course. I was able to manage the situation with calmness, patience and necessary boldness.

3) Dermatoscopy  

I have been exposed to dermoscopy during my training and thankfully learned the basics under the expert tutelage of my GP supervisors who had specialist interests in this area. I found out about this dermoscopy course by chance whilst on the school run – one of my daughter’s friend’s mum is a consultant dermatologist and she told me about a 4 week dermoscopy course at a local hospital. It was a challenge to make sure I could attend all 4 evenings but thanks to my amazing family, I was able to learn more about a topic that I am incredibly passionate about. I learned so much about how to differentiate benign and malignant lesions. This course inspired me to carry out an audit on our practice’s dermatological referrals over the last 12 months. My aim is to see whether dermoscopy can have a role in our practice in reducing our referrals.

4) RCGP annual conference 

The annual conference was a true highlight of the year- it was fantastic to meet my fellow First5 Lead GPs from different faculties and we very quickly bonded on our mutual desire to help GPs, trainees, students  and ultimately our local communities. The conference was an eye-opening experience. I was able to talk to GPs from across the UK and it certainly gave me a fresh perspective of what life is like for some of my GP colleagues – with some of them finding it difficult to keep their heads above water. However, overall, I believe we left the conference galvanised with a simple, common goal – to become better GPs for our patients.

To quote Dr Margaret McCartney, I perennially suffer from “FOMOOC (Fear Of Missing Out On a Conference)” when not attending any courses and conferences! I must confess, that I was one of those annoying individuals who tweet continuously throughout the day as the ‘conference bubble’ takes over and you can’t help yourself but get swept up in the comradery, mutual respect for lecture-topics and medical celebrity speakers! I was honoured to meet up with heroes and heroines of mine whose actions and words inspire me on the daily basis.

My choice of courses was tailored to my needs and weaknesses and it inevitably differed tremendously to the choices of my colleagues. However, some of the courses were also chosen due to recommendation made by friends. As you finish training you don’t have the guidance and the protective bubble of trainers or supervisors any more – so you are forced to fend for yourself.

Thankfully, I have an army of GP friends and semi-mentors from older years, who recommend courses they enjoyed. I think it’s important to make connections with local GPs and as the new first5 lead for SW Thames, my aim is to encourage MORE ENGAGEMENT with fellow GPs in my area so we can build relationships, networks and a supportive hub for one another.

Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed my CPD journey this year. I have learned new things that I will take in to my daily practice and as a result feel both emotionally and academically refreshed! Managing FOMOOC is easy if you plan ahead with regards to your CPD.

I think that study leave is a VITAL part of general practice. We live in murky times with the winter NHS resources having clearly inadequate financial backing, as vociferously highlighted by the RCGP and NHS England. As a result, study leave in practice can be seen as a low priority and a non – factor. However, as GPs we are a proud specialty that specialises in generalism, and we must highlight the importance of continued training! This should be championed, aspired to and promoted. I am very proud of organisations such as the RCGP, Red Whale, GP View, GPOnline for their active participation and enthusiasm for this cause. 

If you want your GP to be up-to-date, holistically cared for, mentally equipped and excited about general practice- you have to give them time to learn and be inspired!

James Thambyrajah
Salaried GP , Cheam Family Practice, Sutton CCG
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