Central Coast GP art group – an initiative to reduce GP burnout

  • Left: Community, by Dr Gordon Lau. Right: Perseverance, by Dr Bronwen Morrison.
    Left: Community, by Dr Gordon Lau. Right: Perseverance, by Dr Bronwen Morrison.
  • Angel, by Dr Ameeta Patel. A piece I made when grieving for the loss of both my parents. I conceptualised them as angels on my shoulders, always with me.  
    Angel, by Dr Ameeta Patel.

Imagine an artist’s studio mixed with an art supply shop, brightly inviting, with finished art pieces decorating the walls. Six of us gather here every fourth Saturday afternoon.

Art therapist Linda welcomes us with a cuppa before encouraging each to pick a card from the set hanging on the back wall. Each card displays a word within an abstract picture, and the idea is to choose one that represents how I am feeling this weekend.

I choose ‘Perseverance’ which bears an image like the horizon before dawn, because of the feeling of over-divided attention and overwhelm that has been building over the past weeks. It’s not just my two GP jobs, but the pressure I put on myself to perform and achieve in other areas of my life, and the feeling of failing at everything because there is always too much to master and not enough time. Does this sound familiar?

The GP Art Group arose from funding made available by our PHN during COVID times to support GPs on the Coast. The idea was to enable an enjoyable outlet for expression in creativity and a safe and confidential peer forum to counter GP burnout. When funding finished, the original group wanted to continue, so now members pay a fee for Linda’s workshops.

I decided not to join during the pandemic. I coped with enforced seclusion, even enjoyed it, but with restrictions lifting and life becoming busy again, the feeling of overwhelm grew.

So why did adding another monthly event to my already full calendar seem to make sense this year? I found myself wanting to debrief when I had the chance to catch up socially with colleagues. My non-medical partner has a low threshold for chats about work. We have a new registrar in my private practice who is delightful but is also challenging my knowledge by asking for advice. My headspace job is ever changing with new projects and colleagues, and institutional challenges. The work is often lonely, despite spending most of the day in intense interpersonal exchange. There are tragedies and traumas every week, as well as joys and satisfying outcomes. The work pushes me forward and demands that I step up every day, even when energy is depleted.

Linda invites each of us to talk about the cards we have chosen, and why. It’s time to get to the heart of why we are here today. As we take our turn, Linda reflects back to each of us the essence of what we’ve said, and what we’d like to change. Each of us feel heard. Then she points to some materials she suggests we use today, with a broad theme attached. Today, she has some blank notebooks to decorate inside or out, and some blank diorama booklets to storyboard.

I choose the blank notebook and start to decorate it with cloth, paper leaves and silver thread as a gift for a friend’s birthday.

As we play with crafts, we talk. We offer problem-solving support to a group member with a practice dilemma. We discuss changes in our work settings, and workshop difficult issues. We share some positive breakthroughs with patients and how these came about. We talk about long overdue holidays and complicated families. There is no agenda, no pressure to perform, no competition amongst amateur artists, just friendly chat.

I leave feeling refreshed and supported, with a new creation as evidence of my perseverance today.

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