Dr Lucy Loveday on the projects that are aiming to support burnt-out GPs through the natural environment
I set off in my electric car, enjoying the beautiful Dartmoor morning. I’ve loaded the boot with evaluation forms, waterproof layers, headtorches and books about the wild, and am full of anticipation for the first-ever RCGP Nature Immersion. It launched on the main stage of the 2019 RCGP National Conference with Dr Helen Garr, but had to be postponed several times because of Covid.
I have long been involved in medical education and wellbeing in general practice, running my own multidisciplinary mental health platform Movement & The Mind. My latest ventures include being regional director for the British Society of Lifestyle Medicine and I am co-facilitator of the RCGP’s new scheme.
Driving the familiar roads, I appreciate the ponies, fieldfares, cows, sheep and buzzards. On arrival at Brimpts Farm, I’m welcomed by co-facilitators Professor David Peters and Alan Heeks.
Course delegates arrive. One had to cancel because of work pressures. This is both a symptom of the pressure and a paradox – a doctor, who by their own admission is on the brink of burnout, can’t attend a wellbeing course.
Sharing lunch, we capture baseline data so the course is evaluated. We invite delegates to consider a digital break. WiFi here is unreliable, and while everyone is contactable for emergencies, this presents a real opportunity to put the screens away and shift focus outwards to the natural world and inwards to the self.
Around a roaring fire, we introduce ourselves, expressing hopes, expectations and fears. The tears are soon evident, collective stress palpable, and the burnout that has been held tightly now overflows. The term ‘moral injury’ manifests through shared stories, experiences of distress and challenges. We share our vulnerabilities and feel a mutual humanity. Afterwards, people report they feel relieved and decompressed.
Time for an orientation to develop a relationship with the place we are in. We walk a carefully curated route, noticing the river, ash tree and wildflowers. This brings the mind to where the body is – in mindfulness and with nature. It draws on the senses, continues breathwork and looks to the sky. There’s a notable incline, which one delegate likens to ‘climbing the mountain’ of personal and professional challenges, supporting one another as we journey. We can learn how to sustain ourselves, and in parallel, connect with and learn about the planet and nature.
After tea, we explore the neurophysiology of resilience, and the parallels in our ecosystem. Next is an optional conservation activity, working with the land to restore biodiversity. For those staying back, I hold a listening space outside. A rainbow even appears over Yar Tor.
After home-cooked food, we walk, under a full moon and blanket of stars, to woodland. Around a firepit, we explore grief and gratitude. We return to the accommodation by torchlight. The night created a connective experience, and we’re smiling while heading to bed or the hot tub.
I meet delegates for pre-breakfast stretches and mindfulness, before the day continues with workshops, covering natural systems resilience, composting, individual work and more.
We close in a circle, as we began. This time, we look outwards and set intentions. Delegates report leaving less stressed and more equipped to sustain themselves. One says: ‘It was beautifully organised, with a balance of activity, walks and science talks.’ And so together, we begin again. We have two more immersions planned for 2022.
Profile: Dr Lucy Loveday
GP; associate dean: faculty development, innovation & performance, South West at Health Education England; health inequalities fellow at Devon Training Hub; NHS clinical entrepreneur and cross-Government advisory board member
Approximately 30 per week