Studies show that early career health professionals are experiencing high rates of anxiety and depression. If this is the case for you, it’s time to reach out.
A 2013 study conducted by beyondblue found that health care providers and medical students are more likely to experience psychological distress and suicidal thoughts compared to the general population as a result of their stressful workload.1 Yet, despite all evidence pointing towards an increase in workrelated stress, generalised anxiety and depression, and so-called ‘burn-out’ amongst early career medical professionals,2 there is a continued stigma associated with admitting to it. A systematic review of the published scientific literature regarding the mental health of healthcare providers identified this perceived stigma, and a fear of disappointing coworkers, as major barriers for those reporting personal mental health concerns.3
providing the networks and resources they need to become resilient independent practitioners is vital
Beginning my optometric career (including throughout university), I suffered a tremendous amount of anxiety. I would wake up in the middle of the night thinking, “Did I enter that script properly?”, “Did I make the right decision?”, or “What if I missed something?”. Some of the most incredible early career optometrists (ECOs) I know experienced some level of imposter syndrome during their first few years. They felt as if they’d somehow fluked their career so far, yet having seen them in a clinical capacity, I knew this wasn’t true. They were, and continue to be, caring, knowledgeable, and empathetic towards their patients.
A turning point for me was seeking advice from a health professional regarding my own anxiety. It was a slow process, but through this my confidence in clinical practice began to grow. My psychologist once told me that at the end of the day I have to be happy with how I practice – that, when it comes down to it, I need to be able to say that I have provided the care that was needed.
I was also taught when to take a step back – because as much as I may want to help every patient, some people unfortunately, don’t want help, and this is not a reflection on the quality of my care. My peers and optometry mentors also helped me reach this realisation and I am endlessly grateful for their support. Perhaps because of my own experiences, I have been keen to support other ECOs starting out in their careers. Recently I, along with colleagues Shazaan Khambiye and Lucy Cochrane, established ECO Tasmania to do this. I also assist ECOs through George and Matilda’s graduate support and education programs. Helping new graduates navigate the ‘real world’ of optometry is rewarding – providing the networks and resources ECOs need to become resilient independent practitioners is vital to their ability to flourish into fully fledged professionals.
With changes in health care, funding, and scope of practice, the future of optometry can seem uncertain. ECO think tanks remind me of the wonderful, kind future leaders optometry can expect in Australia. Their enthusiasm, compassion, and intelligence is exciting, and I want to see them reach their full potential.
In my experience, there is real value in offering a reassuring hand and knowing there is someone you can reach out to if you have any concerns or questions. After all – to best look after your patients, you really have to look after yourself.
If you are experiencing difficulties at any time, I urge you to talk to family, peers, friends, and a GP. Emergency support can be sought through beyondblue (1300 224 636) or Lifeline (13 11 14).
Tori Halsey B.Vissci M.Optom studied optometry at Deakin in Melbourne before returning to Tasmania to work in 2016. She practices at Eyelines Optometrists, is the Early Career Optometrist Co-Chair for Tasmania and has a role on the Optometry Tasmania Board.
- Morgan, R. “National Mental Health Survey of Doctors and Medical Students.” beyondblue (2013) https://www. beyondblue.org.au/media/media-releases/media-releases/ action-to-improve-the-mental-health-of-australian-doctorsand- medical-students
- Moir, F. et al. “Depression in Medical Students: Current Insights.” Advances in Medical Education and Practice 9 (2018): 323–333. PMC.
- Elliott L., Tan J., Norris S. “The Mental Health of Doctors: A Systematic Literature Review.” Prepared by Health Technology Analysts Pty Ltd for beyondblue: the national depression initiative