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Supporting 21st century patients working in 21st century jobs

Caffeine and contemplation

Dominique Thompson

Sunday, 01 July 2018

cloud engineering_AdobeStock_112168346.jpgWhat did you want to be when you grew up?

Ok - maybe if you’re reading this blog, then by definition, it was a doctor, nurse, or other healthcare professional. But think for a second about the other kids in your class. Did they want to be a data scientist, app developer, podcast producer or social media content manager? No? Perhaps a designer of AI tech, or driverless cars? As you will have guessed, none of these jobs existed twenty, or perhaps even ten years ago, meaning that many of the people we care for may work in fields we have little understanding of. We can only imagine the pressure on the designer of a driverless car to ensure that it does not go rogue, or the expectation on an app developer to be creative and innovative, constantly evolving, endlessly upping their game.

I was recently pondering all these roles, as I had the pleasure of being on a discussion panel to discuss the potential impact on mental health of working in the world of social media.

To be honest when I was first invited to speak I thought it was going to be about the old ‘impact of social media on our mental health’ chestnut, but when I read the brief more closely it was much more thought provoking than that. The panel was to consider how working in a 24/7, ‘always on’, creative industry might affect those who are immersed in it, and what top tips we might give our audience, to help them stay well and thrive.

Listening to my fellow panellists talk about the pressures they face working as online community managers, or social media leads for large organisations and charities, I was struck by the similarities they shared with those of other careers. Judgment by peers, needing to constantly evolve and be engaged, working and replying late at night or at weekends, or needing to prove themselves constantly and ‘add value’.

Hearing that someone works in social media might previously have led me to think ‘ooh fun’ or ‘sounds creative’ (which they are), but I will now also be aware of the demands, vulnerability and expectations associated with such roles, and of others that I had never heard of until recently, such as content moderator, cloud architect (no not the sky kind) and developer evangelist. When we see people with work-related stress in general practice, it may be easy to minimise (or even dismiss) the stresses of such 21 st century roles if we are less familiar with them, or if they are less stereotypically stressful like teaching or air traffic control, but as we are likely to be seeing increasing numbers of people who work in such roles, perhaps it is time to take a moment to consider the stresses of working in the new industries, and to ask our patients not just about what their job is but what specific pressures come with it.

Hearing ‘brand manager’ or ‘data analyst’ may sound straightforward to the uninitiated like me, but these roles are associated with significant responsibility, as well as potentially involving 24/7 on call expectations, long distance travel, or other demands we are unware of. A small mistake in a data algorithm or in the development of a driverless car could ripple out to have as devastating consequences as the mistake of an air traffic controller or pharmacist.

The 21 st century is bringing us not just new medications and healthcare technology, but multiple new jobs for our patients. And as we ask about and learn more about our patients’ occupations we will hopefully discover more about the people we care for.

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Dominique Thompson

Dominique has been a student health GP since 2000, developing innovative new services to treat eating disorders and personality disorder in primary care. She was the GP member of the NICE Eating Disorders Committee 2017. She was a Pulse ‘GP hero’, in 2014, and a ‘Rising Star’ in 2016. Dominique writes about young adult wellbeing and mental health, in both the medical and non-medical press. Her latest adventure is as an independent consultant in student health and wellbeing www.buzzconsulting.co.uk. She is fuelled by caffeinated drinks.
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