Kindness in the NHS - Suba's Story

Suba is a junior doctor who has been working in the Emergency Department of an NHS hospital in London during the coronavirus outbreak. She has been bowled over by the acts of kindness that she has witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic and wants to share her story with you.

From its founding principles, to the selfless workers that are its lifeblood and to today’s pandemic – the message at the heart of the NHS is one of kindness and care. And a little kindness goes a long way.  

My life as a junior doctor

I’m Suba, a junior doctor currently working in the Emergency Department. I have worked in the NHS for almost 4 years. There are many challenges that I expected to face when becoming a doctor, but the most difficult things have often been the ones I didn’t anticipate:

  1. feeling like a stranger at work because no one knows your name  

  2. constantly rotating between departments and coming on and off on call shifts, nights, and weekends  

  3. tired and frustrated colleagues, patients or their relatives being snappy with you  

  4. feeling helpless when faced with patients with social issues that you don’t know how to help 

  5. barely having time for your loved ones or hobbies between work, studying for exams and preparing for interviews   

Working in an overstretched service

It feels like it would only take one more thing to push you over the edge, such as getting a ticket for parking in the wrong section of an empty staff car park, rushing to the canteen on a busy day to find it closed five minutes earlier, dealing with an angry patient/relative/colleague when your emotional reserve is empty.  

A stretched service compromises the wellbeing of its staff and the reality is, you cannot pour from an empty jug. The current situation within the NHS made me nervous for the impending pandemic.   

Working during the coronavirus pandemic   

Over the last 2 months we’ve seen an unprecedented change in the way our department is run and the pathology that we’ve been dealing with:  

  • I’ve had to break news of death to family members and have many end of life discussions – which is very unusual in the Emergency Department 

  • I’ve comforted distraught colleagues in changing rooms  

  • repeatedly moisturised the cracked skin on my hands 

  • and lastly, I have gotten into the swing of a decontamination routine every time I come home from work 

There are parts of my job that have stayed the same, there are parts of my job that are now very different.   

Working amongst immeasurable acts of kindness

It has been a very challenging time as anticipated, but the one thing I didn’t anticipate was the immeasurable acts of kindness and gratitude that I have experienced. These have been a saving grace. The cumulative effect of these acts of kindness has kept my jug filled so I can keep doing my job:   

  1. local people sewing scrubs, laundry bags and ear protectors for staff  

  2. car park companies allowing staff to park for free in hospital car parks  

  3. councils allowing hospital staff to park freely on surrounding roads  

  4. airline companies running lounges in hospitals for staff, serving hot drinks  

  5. local catering companies and restaurants donating free food regularly  

  6. the loud and enthusiastic weekly claps from neighbours  

  7. supermarkets allowing staff to have designated times and priority when shopping    

There is a clear shift even in the culture at work with different specialties working together and staff working more flexibly than ever. Appreciation is widely shared between colleagues; we receive regular messages of encouragement from senior management and I have never had so many patients tell me how grateful and proud they are of me.   

Sometimes as a doctor, all you can be is kind. It is lovely that during the COVID-19 pandemic, we healthcare professionals are on the receiving end of so much kindness. There is a lot of trauma that we’ll have to work through but for now, this kindness keeps us afloat. As we move through the pandemic, I hope we keep this message of kindness in our hearts and minds. I hope we remember the sacrifices of our health workers.   

I hope we support our NHS to continue doing the work it’s always been doing and to care for its staff as well as its patients.  

Suba spends her time outside of medicine hosting a podcast that enquires into the complexities of a career as a doctor and volunteering with humanitarian NGOs both in London and overseas. She has an interest in women’s health, improving access to healthcare for immigrant communities and the wellbeing of doctors. You can keep up with her through her podcast Life After The Letters or on her Instagram @heyyysuba