At 14-years-old, Ben Watson was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a condition where the immune system wrongfully attacks the nerve cells, resulting in him being paralysed for five months. Watson was left with impairment below his knees, meaning he had to learn to walk again. Today he is a Double Paralympic Champion in British cycling and took his second gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
The Derby-born cyclist will be joining the ASiT’s annual Surgical Innovation summit at this year’s Future Surgery Show in November to talk about ‘Overcoming Challenges in Elite Sport (and Surgical Training)’. Ben will be delivering a two-part presentation with the first section following his journey from contracting and recovering from Guillain-Barré, having a professional career then making the switch to part-time and then full-time professional cyclist. The second part will look at the similarities between elite athletes and surgeons including burnout, over training and mental health.
‘Burnout is a massive problem’
There are many similarities between professional athletes and surgeons and burnout and overtraining is an issue that affects many clinicians. The medical community already working very hard are now dealing with added pressures with no real thought about ‘if people could cope and what they were taking home’. Ben's talk will encourage people to open up and discuss the importance of letting someone know.
“Overtraining is a massive problem for both surgeons and professional athletes, I know this first-hand,” he explains. “I’m really excited to come and talk to all the trainee surgeons at Future Surgery about how I dealt with it, how we look at it and work it out, and my experience in working with a psychologist, coaches and my sporting team to get around issues of overtraining and burnout and, effectively, the mental issues that surround this.
“Burnout is a massive problem across all walks of life, especially since the pandemic. All the medical staff have been working incredibly hard, with another layer added on top, and there’s been no real thought about whether people can deal with this and what people are taking home.”
Covid-19 has exacerbated burnout
A recent report found that employee burnout is on the rise, with a frightening 52% of all workers experiencing being burned out – a 9% rise since the covid-19 pandemic, and it’s especially prevalent among healthcare workers.
The charity Mental Health UK describe burnout as a state of physical and emotional exhaustion that can occur when people experience long-term stress in their job, or when working in a physically or emotionally draining role for a long time. The issue is that it can worsen unless the underlying problems causing it are addressed. If the signs of burnout are ignored, which often include feelings of self-doubt, feelings of detachment, helplessness, and being drained and overwhelmed, it can cause further harm to future physical and mental health.
As the lines between home and the workplace have become increasingly blurred since the pandemic, today 46% of UK workers feel ‘more prone to extreme levels of stress’ compared with a year ago.
“People are getting depressed and having more and more mental health issues. It’s a good thing to say, ‘stop I can’t actually deal with this’, and it’s also a very hard thing to be able to do, especially in the upper echelons of management,” Ben adds. “Hopefully, from the talk at Future Surgery, we can explore ways to actually be able to talk and be confident that everyone else is also having these issues, and that it’s okay not to be okay. It’s okay to talk to people who are having similar problems to what everybody else is facing due to stress and increasing workloads. Unfortunately, at the moment I can’t see this abating; it just seems to be getting worse and worse, and something needs to be done about it.”
Ben’s headline talk ‘Overcome Challenges in Elite Sport (and Surgical Training)’ will take place on 9 November 2021, 14:45 - 15:20, in the ASiT Innovation Theatre at Future Surgery.
Future Surgery 2021 takes place at ExCel London on 9-10 November. The event features an accredited speaker programme, co-produced with the Royal College of Surgeons of England, which will explore disruptive technology, connectivity, human factors, training and research to support the transformation of the profession and the improved care and safety of patients.