“Everyone feels vulnerable or worried at some point”
Since the AOP Peer Support Line was launched in May 2017 it has received 321 calls. It has provided 275 support conversations totalling 109 hours. One of its optometrist volunteers speaks to OT about the aims and benefits of the service
Why did you become a Peer Support Line volunteer?
As a health professional, dealing with the public, empathy, understanding, good communication, and offering advice and possible solutions are qualities that I use on a daily basis. Therefore, when the opportunity to become better trained in this area in order to provide a confidential, listening and supportive environment for my peers arose, I knew it would be a good idea to volunteer.
I knew that calls to the Peer Support Line would be made by genuine people.
What issues do you feel have been most prominent in the calls you’ve taken over the past two years, and how have you supported callers with these?
I’d say that the majority of calls have featured work-related stress issues and clinical judgements, and about 80% are from female qualified optometrists, with some from pre-reg optometrists. I’d also say that people working in multiples ring more than those in independents.
I find that colleagues are worried about the length of examination times, having to work harder and faster to achieve a commercial target over clinical decisions. People have mentioned feeling sick in their stomachs, not looking forward to going to work and even considering other careers.
Time management, stress, anxiety, having to administer appropriate clinical management in a short time frame and fear of missing any pathology are all big issues and some callers have experienced these difficulties for several months, not knowing who to ask for advice.
As Peer Support Line trained volunteers, we are there for colleagues to call anonymously. We don’t provide the solutions, but rather let callers talk through their feelings and difficulties, and hopefully they will then have a better idea of how to self-manage the problem by the end of the call.
People have mentioned feeling sick in their stomachs, not looking forward to going to work and even considering other careers
The calls can last for as long as needed, there are no time pressures. The longest call I've taken has been one and a half hours, and the shortest has been four minutes.
There have been callers who have unfortunately missed some pathology, and then I would signpost them to other support organisations, such as the AOP.
What do you enjoy most about supporting callers on the line?
Everyone feels vulnerable or worried at some point. Hopefully by the end of a conversation with a Peer Support Line volunteer they feel in a better situation. I do ask callers if they now feel reassured or relieved, and usually they are. We are sympathetic to all of the callers. In my very small way, I hope I am giving colleagues a support structure.
The training to become a volunteer has been intensive, and I hope it has made me a more reflective listener.
Some callers have experienced these difficulties for several months, and not knowing who to ask for advice
What advice would you give to anyone feeling stressed or worried and considering calling the line?
Definitely call. Stress, anxiety and worry are natural, but can become overwhelming, overpowering and very quickly mentally and physically disabling. One can quickly lose self-esteem or rational decision making.
We know that it can be scary to ask for support and ring a phone line. Some people will worry ‘what will they think of me,’ ‘who will they discuss my concerns with,’ ‘will they tell my work colleagues,’ ‘no one can help me,’ or ‘hopefully things will just better by themselves.’
However, we are here to help, we don’t judge, we will give you as much time as you need, and hopefully we can be a support and give callers space to figure out what to do. As volunteers, we are friendly, we work in the same optical industry and have a wide range of experience. And it’s free to call.
We don’t give structured step by step advice as that’s beyond our training, but we can signpost callers to different areas of support.
Image credit: Getty/Dimitris66