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20 October 2023
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Coaching Q&A | Oct-23

We will be continuing to answer the questions raised at Dr Fiona Day’s Career Clinic at the last FMLM conference.

QUESTION: ‘Any advice for a consultant returning to work after a long period of absence with long COVID – having previously started heading for management roles but now potentially having to re-establish myself?’

ANSWER: First of all, I am sorry to hear that you have been unwell. Long covid is still so poorly understood and for many people has been extremely debilitating.

Hopefully, you have had a positive experience from your workplace and appropriate clinical support and occupational health support so far. There is a growing body of research evidence into vocational rehabilitation, see NICE guideline NG146 and the associated publications and evidence reviews for more information if you haven’t already seen this then it’s a good place to start.

You will need a team around you, at home and at work. Think about who needs to be on that team, choose them carefully, and make clear requests so that you can all be sure around what your needs are, and what people are agreeing to.I would advise you to ensure that your support team includes an expert in Vocational Rehabilitation for doctors. This is likely to be a specialist medical career coach who helps those who are ill, injured or who have a disability to access, maintain or return to medical employment or another useful occupation.

Good work is good for us, and hopefully you will be able to pick up from where you left off and over a period of time rebuild your stamina, ability to focus and to cope with any ongoing symptoms in the workplace, with support from your employer for reasonable adjustments. The Equality Act defines the term of disability – and only an employment tribunal can decide whether you have a disability at the end of the day (unless you have or have had cancer, MS or HIV) – however the larger the employer the more reasonable adjustments are expected to be offered to you.

I think the main question you are asking though is about having to potentially re-establish yourself. As an expert medical career coach and medical vocational rehabilitation specialist, I would work with you as follows.

First of all, ensuring you have the support team you need and that you are actively working with occupational health, your clinical team, and your employer. Then I would help you to establish short term goals and supporting you back into the work environment - even if this is at a much reduced level than your previous level of performance, it is likely to be important to you to get you back into a work environment. 

Then I would help you to work out what your medium and longer-term options are, based on assessing your interests and abilities (now and predicted future abilities as you hopefully continue to improve or manage your condition effectively), using workplace psychology. If you do need to re-establish yourself then I would support you through that process, helping you to work out what you need to do in terms of changing identity (a complex psychological process for most people involving loss as well as the cultivation of hope as you create a new chapter for yourself). There may be additional training needs which you have, we would develop a PDP and put it into practice. I would then support you with any job search and securing a role if you were changing direction or employer. 

There is now substantial evidence that good work is beneficial for physical and mental health, and that unemployment and long-term sickness absence often have harmful effects. Getting you well enough to sustain a role at work would seem to be your priority, and then working out your longer-term career direction would be the second step. 

I wish you all the best in your return to work, slow and steady wins the race.

Do keep in touch and let me know how you get on and whether you have any further questions.

Dr Fiona Day (MBChB, FFPH, CPsychol) is a Chartered Consultant Coaching Psychologist and former Board-level medical & public health leader. She is the UK’s leading Coach and Coaching Psychologist for senior doctors, medical and public health leaders. 

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