Healing the Healers - A Doctors Retreat

By , Melinda McCarthy published on 14/09/2022

This week we catch up with Dr Claire Noonan, one of our regular GP Locum Doctors who is holding a retreat for doctors to help them work on burnout prevention. Claire has partnered with Dr Amy Imms from the Burnout Project to bring us the inaugural Healing the Healers retreat this weekend in Katoomba. Including a creative writing workshop for doctors with Dr. Hilton Koppe, and yoga and release classes with Veronica Sutherland (Movement Evolution Studio), the focus will be on building new strategies for combatting burnout and impostor syndrome, and start a new path toward a sustainable and fulfilling working life.

With doctor burnout and mental health issues amongst doctors on the incline, it’s so refreshing to see an initiative like Healing the Healers. Can you tell us a little about the program and how it came about?

I dreamed up the idea for the retreat after doing my Rethinking Impostor Syndrome training - learning about how to help others with Impostor-type feelings helped me address my own, and I started doing bold things like starting my own business, and initiating the retreat. I had also been to a couple of yoga retreats in the past year, and thought how good would it be to have a doctor-specific retreat run by doctors, targeting our unique issues?

When you talk to doctors what are the main issues they are facing today in their practice? What are the main obstacles to maintaining a happy work/life balance?

The usual pressures of clinical work have been amplified during the past few years - doctors are talking about the high expectations placed on them by the general public, the government, their colleagues and even themselves. They also talk about the lack of support and funding. For GPs at the moment, it’s an interesting time. General practice as we know it is being eroded and underfunded, it’s not an attractive option for graduates. So the great GP shortage is upon us and likely to get worse. 

How does the retreat aim to aid participants?

We want to give participants time and supported space to debrief, relax and be effectively cared for themselves for once. We aim to equip them with skills that will help them navigate their working life with self-preservation and fulfilment as a priority. In particular, I want to give them mastery over their impostor syndrome feelings, give them the edge over burnout, and leave them feeling relaxed and inspired and mentally well. 

Dr Claire Noonan

Can you tell us a bit about the Healers Retreat team?

There is me - I’m a GP based in Orange NSW with special skills in psychological medicine. There’s Dr Amy Imms (The Burnout Project) - she is a GP and coach based in Tassie. We have Dr Hilton Koppe, a General Practitioner from Lennox Head who is well known for his creative writing workshops for doctors. Finally, we have Veronica Sutherland - the best yoga and pilates instructor in Orange, who has kindly agreed to come and run our movement and release classes.

Are you expecting doctors from a range of specialties and various seniorities?

So far we have mainly GPs signed up but with various different special skills and interests. We’ve had a lot of people wanting to come who can’t make it - particularly hospital specialists who are having trouble getting leave approved. It’s hard - they need the break more than ever but with being short-staffed, it’s hard for them to get away.

For those who can’t make the retreat in September do you have any other dates in the pipeline?

We are planning one in Autumn next year and hopefully another Spring time one as well.

What inspired you to become a GP?

I became a GP because I was greedy and a bit lazy. Hear me out - the laziness was me not wanting to move around, I wanted control over where I did my training. With GP training I could do it all in Orange. Greed - I didn’t have to give up any parts of medicine that I love, I get to be useful to anyone of any age with any problem. I like to be useful. Also, I grew up around GPs in Scone - my mother is a retired GP. The staff at my mother's practice were like extended family, old-school country doctors. To be like them was my original wish, and after the brief romances with neurology and surgery, I came back to GP as my career plan.

How do you manage your own work/life balance?

I try to take frequent short breaks and occasional longer ones. Trips away with my kids and also without them! I limit my working hours. I try to do helpful things as much as possible. The most helpful things for me are exercise (ideally to music), meaningful human connection, case discussion and venting with select colleagues, creative expression (writing poetry, a novel, and composing music), riding my motorbike, reading books on Buddhist philosophy and psychology, and making pots of loose leaf tea (sometimes secretly in my consulting room between patients).

What changes in the healthcare system would you like to see to give both patients more access to primary care and doctors better working conditions?

I think instead of funding urgent care clinics at great expense (and then having trouble staffing them), the government should support existing general practices better. It’s much more cost-effective and better for the patients. They should increase medicare rebates and/or increase the bulk billing incentive. This should be means tested so that patients who really can’t afford to pay much of a gap, don’t have to. The rural incentive payments to GPs should increase - they have not kept up with anything close to inflation. They should stop siphoning off the ‘easy’ parts of GP work to non-doctors, which effectively only makes our job harder. Also, they should provide funding and recruitment support to enable all practices/health services to access locums, so that no doctor is unable to take leave. I have many ideas, not all practical… bottle of gin at Christmas would be great, for example. 

What advice would you give to medical students who are deciding which pathway to go down?

Think of what you love, then consider, how much do you love it? What will you need to sacrifice to do it - and would it be worth it because you love it? What would it bring to your life? What other doors might it open if it turns out not to be your forever job? Talk to as many people in that field as you can. Are they happy? If they are not, do they still tell you it’s wonderful despite the hard stuff? I told my medical student recently all about the chaos and calamity facing general practice, all the issues we face. I vented a lot. But then I said, I would still choose to do it again. You get to do everything. You can be your own boss, you can work anywhere. It’s never boring. The fellowship opens doors to many other opportunities. It remains a sound choice.

Thank you Claire for taking time out today to chat with us. All the best for an amazing weekend.

If you are a doctor and want to prioritise your well-being for a change, click here for more information about the Healing the Healers retreat this weekend.

 Alternatively, register now!


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