Sandy and Derek have both worked in health care all their lives, Derek as a GP, Sandy as a neonatologist.
Four years ago they decided to create a sustainable Centre that addressed some key themes for our times - a peaceful Centre which was both professional and personal, aiming to allow its users to reach their own potential. Set in 9 acres of beautiful secluded land, with an environmentally sustainable focus, this is a new facility in the west country for people seeking a setting in which to meet and explore, to relax and discuss, and to learn new skills.
The Centre was built for courses they run aimed at health service professionals, as well as a space that can be used by others.
The Centre is now open for use either as a residential complex sleeping up to 12 people, or as a facility for day courses.
Derek Chase FRCGP (by assessment)
I spent my working life as a NHS GP principal and loved the range of activities this offered, not least the contact with patients. I was involved in senior NHS management, education - as a trainer and VTS course organiser, and research. Indeed my life was centered around my career and providing high quality care for patients. Over the last decade I was Medical Officer for King’s College and ran the NHS Health Centre there seeing at first hand medical and other students and their issues.
More recently I have worked at the Practitioner Health Programme and have been running with Tamara Russell a ten week small group course at King’s College for medical students. The course focuses on promoting well-being and resilience through mindfulness, self help skills, lifestyle awareness, stress management and emotional intelligence.
Putting so much time and effort into work has a personal cost. For instance, as a medical student, my perfectionism resulted in such tension that at one point I became unable to open my jaw wide enough to eat sandwiches – and required treatment. As the health culture has become increasingly critical and unsupportive, so has the ability to share these difficulties - often leading to shame, isolation and burnout.
However, gradually through a variety of approaches including regular exercise, yoga, meditation, counselling and group work I came to understand my personal unhelpful patterns. I discovered it is possible to change and free oneself up leading to a better balance between compassion and clinical detachment - as well as greater contentment, effectiveness and improved relationships.
To be able to build on this experience, and to offer the opportunity for a residential setting where people have the opportunity to step back from the daily pressures and give themselves the space to reflect and refresh, Sandy and I have built Ratford Retreat Centre for both outside groups to use and for retreats that we run ourselves.
Sandy Chase (Sandra Calvert) FRCP, FRCPCH
During my last term at university, not knowing what I was going to do with the rest of my life, I went to my brother’s engagement party and – probably when rather the worse for wear – someone suggested I should do medicine. I thought “why not” – and so began a career that has brought me so much joy and fulfilment, so many intellectual and emotional challenges and the chance to work and cross paths with numerous exciting and stimulating people. I have never regretted my decision and if I had my life again would almost certainly follow a similar path.
Speaking to medical students of today, it is clear that life as a medical student 40 years ago had both similarities and differences. The excitement of seeing “real” patients working alongside the fear of making mistakes, upsetting senior clinicians etc. Something that helped me navigate these challenges was that, during my 5th year, 10 of us formed a group and together with 2 leaders we met about once a month and discussed some of the issues we faced – it was wonderful to be in a room where you felt safe and uninhibited to talk about things freely without judgement and these sessions helped me gain both confidence and self awareness. Over half this group are still some of my closest friends despite the fact they live all over the world including Australia, Africa and Portugal.
After graduating I pursued a career in paediatrics and specialised in neonatology. I was a consultant at St George’s Hospital, Tooting for over 25 years and retired in 2015. As well as loving the clinical work, I got enormous pleasure and satisfaction from teaching and mentoring medical students and junior doctors, seeing many of them grow from apprehensive juniors with little belief in their abilities to leading doctors in various specialties. I feel so much gratitude for all the opportunities I have been given while working for the NHS.
So what do I want to offer now and how to I envisage my future involvement with doctors starting out on their careers. Well, surprising though it may seem in the current climate, I want to give something back to the NHS. With changes in junior doctors’ training alongside increasing expectations from patients, the shortage of nurses and junior medical staff and increasing demands for accountability, I have seen both individuals and teams become demoralised and the level of stress amongst staff increase. Things seem much more impersonal than they used to be; people no longer work in small teams making it difficult to share day to day trials and tribulations with people you see and work with on a daily basis. I would hope my husband Derek and I could help young doctors of today alleviate some of their stress, get the most out of their training and develop their potential.