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Beating burnout is more than just fantasy


Doug Hendrie


21/07/2020 2:22:16 PM

This GP has written a fantasy novel based around wizard school – and beating burnout. Here’s why.

Dr Christopher Timms
Dr Christopher Timms wants to use fantasy to improve reality.

In late 2018, Dr Christopher Timms set himself a goal: attempt one new project a month in a bid to pre-empt burnout.
 
He worked through projects in an evidence-based way, testing out techniques recommended to combat the emotional exhaustion sadly all too common among GPs. He had not burned out himself, but he was determined to prevent it from happening.
 
Dr Timms’ real breakthrough came when he came to the month he had set aside for journalling and creative writing.
 
The GP, who works in regional New South Wales, had always dreamt of publishing a novel, but the serious business of medical school had to come first.
 
What if, he wondered, he could take the idea of combatting burnout and put it into an alternate world?
 
That project has now become Dr Timm’s first fantasy novel, King Tides Curse.
 
‘I wanted to ask what burnout would look like, if it happened in a traditional fantasy novel like Harry Potter, which did touch on it when Hermione takes on too many classes and courses with her time-turner. I wanted to dig into that deeper,’ he told newsGP.
 
‘I asked, if burnout involved a physical transformation, an abrupt change in physical appearance that you couldn’t cover up, what would be different? How would we react to it? What steps would we take to address it?’
 
The novel follows a group of apprentice wizards undergoing tough training so they can save the world from a never-ending flood of monsters from a different universe. Needless to say, burnout is never far away.
 
Dr Timms is a long-time fan of fantasy. His early love of the late UK fantasy writer Terry Pratchett opened his eyes to how fantasy could illuminate modern issues in a different way.
 
‘He wrote a series of books about witches as an analogy for doctors and nurses,’ Dr Timms said. ‘There’s a significant part of one chapter that he devotes to the benefits of a quality pair of boots when working. I took that to heart during long ward rounds.’
 
Dr Timms took a similar approach when he started writing his own novel.
 
‘I started with the guiding principles of the world,’ he said.
 
‘There are fractures in reality between parallel worlds. The Earth is in constant peril from a world-ending flood of monsters from another universe.
 
‘The only thing that stands in their way is a bunch of overworked wizards on the edge of burnout. Magical abilities can burn out.
 
‘I then took those guiding principles and thought about how they would affect a world.
 
‘Each of the main characters symbolises a reason that people might burn out, and also a reason they might have resilience. I splice in some Aussie humour, from Sydney traffic to smashed avocado. The heroes deal with problems from a pager that won’t stop beeping right through to finding affordable childcare for the busy professional.’
 
Dr Timms wants the novel to engage the community about the threat of burnout – and to help build his own resilience through creative expression.
 
The process of writing from different characters’ points of view of has even helped him more easily empathise with some patients. 
 
‘I recognise that resilience is only a small part of burnout and systemic factors do need addressing,’ he said. ‘I’m actually very grateful for all the support I had from my colleagues, mentors and the current practice I work at, but I really wanted to talk about burnout further.  
 
‘I am grateful that I have not been burnt out but, like any health professional, burnout is a risk for my physical, mental and financial wellbeing that I would like to prevent. GPs are the masters of preventive medicine, after all.’
 
Dr Timms was a recent guest on the Just a GP podcast, talking about creative pursuits, resilience and burnout.


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