Mentoring and FutureGPNI

10 July 2020

It’s great to be a guest on Laurence’s blog. After the initial 'yes', I realised I might need something to say in it.

The reality is I welcomed my fourth baby into the world at the end of last year and so have spent lockdown on maternity leave.

At present. I am much more well versed in nappy changes, weaning and nursery rhymes than clinical experiences, and writing about those things would certainly take the blog down an unexpected avenue.

It goes without saying that this period of maternity leave looks very different from what I had anticipated.


We will all have had plans cancelled and holidays postponed, and these are sadly some of the more minor issues this global pandemic has brought us.

In February, I attended the FutureGPNI event put together by Dr Anna O’Kane and Dr Siobhan McEntee with the Faculty Support Unit (FSU) in February, prior to lockdown.

It was a fantastic event bringing together 15 GPs in their first 10 years post-CCT. A great bunch of doctors attended, and the event was well put together and inspiring.

I enjoyed looking at the Myers-Briggs personality profiling again as we explored the idea of 'authentic leadership'.

We had some fun back and forth discussion between the introverts and extroverts in the room. It’s good to remember our valuable differences.

For the first time, I had the relationship explained in a way that I actually understood, between the Department of Health (DoH), Health & Social Care Board (HSCB), Local Medical Committee (LMC), Northern Ireland General Practitioners Committee (NIGPC), British Medical Association (BMA), the RCGP and the Federation Support Unit (FSU).

We were inspired to embrace meaningful change by Mr Mark Taylor as he discussed The Bengoa Report. I was left inspired, and am disappointed we didn’t get to enjoy the next planned events.


At the start of lockdown, a few GPs on maternity leave contacted me to discuss their thoughts: the guilt they felt for not being in work and the pull to be at home with their newborn.

While it is a privilege to have people contact me to go over these things, I would be lying if I didn’t feel a tad unqualified, I mean, who really has the experience to navigate the dos and don’ts of a pandemic.

It’s funny how good-old imposter syndrome is no respecter of circumstances. It’s been written about many times and is not isolated to young, female GPs.

The internal self-critical dialogue would have us count ourselves out of things. However, personal development was already on my mind and, prior to lockdown, I had taken part in six mentoring sessions with Dr Stephen Harte.

Stephen is a sessional GP and Executive Leadership Coach. I accessed the scheme through the Northern Ireland Medical and Dental Training Agency (NIMDTA) link. 

I am relatively new to medical leadership as a young partner and RCGPNI First5 Chair. I wanted to explore my "ideas/concerns/expectations" around communication, goal setting and team working.

Stephen’s sessions were insightful and informative, and I finished the time with some practical tools.
Of course, the mentoring scheme is available to help us when we have to deal with those more difficult seasons presenting in our careers, but the benefits do go beyond that.

As a First5 GP, one of the things that can be tough is making career decisions. One of the great things about working as a GP is the multiple career opportunities out there.

One of the main areas new GPs want to discuss is how to develop a portfolio career.

You want to teach undergraduates? Great, come on ahead! You want to perform vasectomies? Come on, we can do that too! Research, politics, family planning, minor surgery. Really, the possibilities are endless.

Not everyone will need a formal process to help them set goals, but I couldn’t recommend the mentoring process highly enough.

Test Trace Project

This maternity lockdown has certainly brought me some insights. I can safely say I have not missed my calling as a primary school teacher and taking a daily walk with young kids cannot be classified as exercise unless you want an exercise in patience.

I am grateful for the time I have had with my young family. As the desperate news of the situation in Italy presented itself, it seemed it was not a question of, if I would have to end maternity early, but when. I contacted my partners and I expressed my desire to be available if needed.

Each reply came back - slow down, let’s see how things unfold. The underpinning idea was that this would be a marathon not a sprint. Fresh legs would be needed when it was my time to come back.

I am in awe of how so many of you have juggled your family commitments with work.

I called into the surgery last week to make sure I was all set with passwords, emails and a clean coffee cup for my imminent return to work.

During coffee break, our practice manager popped in with a couple of boxes of cupcakes, a gift from our staff to the doctors.

The notes on the card ranged from comical to heartfelt but the theme couldn’t have been clearer. "Thank you, for your hard work, time and dedication and for helping us feel safe at work during such an uncertain time."

I was very proud to witness that, and proud of our partnership that they had pulled off such a feat. At this stage of the game, everyone I am chatting to is saying they are weary, ready for a break and we all know that the marathon continues.

On Monday, the Public Health Agency launched a media campaign for the Test Trace Protect to help people break the chain of transmission if they have symptoms:

  • book a test
  • help trace your contacts
  • self-isolate if advised.

Information can be found on the NI Direct website.

An information leaflet (359 KB PDF) and a poster (219 KB PDF) are also available to download and use in surgery.


I just wanted to finish by sharing a video that Dr Stephen Harte made - it is available on the GPNI website.

Stephen makes some brilliant points in the video. I, for one, have been overwhelmed by the number of emails, Zooms, webinars and web-based resources out there.

It’s difficult to switch off in a world when we are always on; taming the phone habit would be a good start for me.

Did you know that when the BlackBerry was first launched it was nick-named the 'crackberry'? We no longer need to be in work to be working - we just need to stretch across and lift our phone off the bedside table and we are straight into the world of never-ending Coronavirus updates.

Having better boundaries around phone use would be a good place to start.

Understandably, I have some trepidation about starting back to work, as the way we work is so different to how it was when I finished in November, but I have been so impressed by how our profession has adapted and embraced the challenges put forth.

The determination and ingenuity that has been shown has been so impressive. Here’s hoping my legs are 'fresh' enough and I can accept the baton for this next stage.

Post written by

Dr Nicola Topping, GP partner in East Belfast and First5 Chair of RCGPNI

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