STP Support | The Emotional Rollercoaster of the STP – A Survival Guide

Elation. That was the prevailing emotion that overwhelmed me on 22nd May 2018 at 09:23. The email read: “We are pleased to offer you the following programme: Scientist Training Programme, Cardiac Science”.

I blink and it’s 2021 already. I write this piece with several imminent deadlines, the stress associated with learning on-the-job, a healthy number of competencies remaining, all in the midst of a pandemic. Elation is no longer the appropriate adjective to describe my emotional state. Realistically, it’s a colourful cocktail – the sort you’d find at a ‘cheesy pop’ night at a student union – comprised of apprehension, fatigue and a double shot of fear. Needless to say, in the interim I’ve experienced a plethora of emotional ups and downs.

A man who knows a lot about ups and downs (in the very literal sense) is Bear Grylls. Famed for climbing impassable terrain and descending slick waterfall-ladened cliff faces; Bear uses basic principles to overcome adversity and achieve his goals. In a similar vein, there are a few simple but effective strategies that can help us weather any emotional turbulence, and (eventually) reach the summit of our own Everest: Completion of the STP.

A superb metaphor illustrated with unrivalled Microsoft Paint skills

In line with the NHS modus operandi, this can be neatly packaged into an apt acronym: CREST (Communicate, Recognise, Embrace, Structure, Time).

Communicate

Colleagues, family, friends and fellow STPs. All these people are here for you. Talk to them. It can be tempting to burrow away and focus on things you can control like academia and competencies, whilst everyone else is doing Zoom quizzes. Where possible, take time to cultivate new relationships at work – whether this is through debating who’s behind the giant sausage on the Masked Singer, or why it’s essential to have Gündoğan in your Fantasy Premier League team. Small and regular non-work-related interactions with those you see most often can help you stave off the effects of attenuated social connectivity during the pandemic. 

Recognise when you’re struggling

This can be the hardest aspect of being a trainee. We become so focussed on our day-to-day commitments it can be difficult to notice when we’ve moved away from our emotional equilibrium. Sometimes it even needs a little prod from someone else to help you realise. It is often useful to talk to people who a) understand you and b) understand what you’re going through. Flexibility and solutions can be found as long as you speak up! This could be as simple as more study time or rebalancing work commitments to help you re-equilibrate. Further help and guidance can be found on the NSHCS website via the link below.

Embrace Imposter Syndrome

One of the best pieces of advice I have received was to embrace Imposter Syndrome, as almost everyone experiences it. This was a lesson from my training officer –  that I could have done learning in Year 5 PSHE.

STP trainees are serial high-achievers who are suddenly thrown into an environment where we feel behind and out-of-place. As soon as you get comfortable, bang, a new rotation and you’re back to square one. Those feelings of inadequacy and fraud follow your STP journey like a shadow.

Since you can’t do much about your shadow but embrace it, how about doing the same with Imposter Syndrome? Use it as a positive tool for development and motivation. Struggling with a tricky concept? Talk to your colleagues and see how they overcame that problem. How about a quick venture to YouTube – can someone explain it more succinctly with exciting animations? Combined with more realistic expectations of your capabilities, this reframing of an eternal struggle for all STPs  is a challenge, but can immeasurably improve your outlook on the programme and your role within the workplace.                        

Bring a little Structure to your life

For a three year programme, it’s amazing how quickly you can feel behind the curve. I remember as a ‘fresh’ Year 1, I threw myself into competencies – but before realising it I was behind with University commitments. This was a valuable lesson. I’m sure someone said ‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail’ before my Year 8 GCSE Geography teacher, but Mrs K was right.

At the beginning of the academic year, sit down and broadly plan how to effectively use your study days. Remember competencies can be put on hold to an extent, but Uni deadlines come at you quickly. Coming from an expert in productive procrastination, making colourful Gantt charts or timetables can be incredibly effective and make you feel like you’ve achieved a lot. Taking a bit of time to plan your progress will be invaluable down the line.

Take Time for yourself

STP trainees are notoriously bad at taking their foot off the ‘go’ pedal. We simultaneously battle several different fronts of deadlines, OneFile and work commitments. This is physically and emotionally exhausting. In line with the previous section, aim to frequently structure some time for yourself.

Personally, one of the unexpected bonuses of the pandemic was re-discovering running – thank you NHS 5k challenge! Exercise is an excellent opportunity to get into your own headspace, think through things and, perhaps more pertinently, shake-off lingering stress and anxiety. Alternatively, if the thought of squeezing into overly-tight clothes and jogging is not your cup of tea, do yourself a world of good by getting the fresh air on your skin and pop out for regular walks.

Equally as importantly, take some time to relax on the sofa and do nothing. Don’t feel guilty. Netflix has plenty of content curated almost specifically for you – it’d be rude to let it go unwatched. Remember too, the greatest benefits can be derived when you feel like you have no time at all. Even with multiple demands pulling you in every direction, an evening rebooting will significantly improve your emotive state.

So there we go, five simple principles: CREST. Assimilate these into your consciousness and you can manage the rollercoaster that is the STP.

Links

https://nshcs.hee.nhs.uk/services/training-support/your-health-and-well-being/

https://stpperspectives.com/2020/07/28/impostor-syndrome-what-is-it/

Author: timhusselbury

Year 3 Trainee Cardiac Scientist at Barts Health NHS Trust - specialising in echocardiography

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