Being neither an academic nor a general practitioner, I arrived feeling something like a fish out of water at the RCGP annual conference last month in Glasgow. My colleagues and I had won one of the categories of the RCGP’s Research Paper of the Year award with our paper about women’s experiences of referral to a domestic violence advocate and I was invited to give a short presentation in the wonderfully named “Winners’ Enclosure” section of the conference.
As I trotted, albeit nervously, up to the lectern (I’m going along with the “Winners’ Enclosure” analogy here!) I was reminded how easy it is for us to all stay within our own comfort zone whether that be professionally or personally. I had never presented on a paper before. I had never been involved in anything that had ever won a prize before. I had never been to such a large conference before.
But my feelings of trepidation pale into insignificance when you hear the stories of the women that were interviewed for our paper, and also the story of the person who conducted the interviews. Kim, a survivor of domestic violence and abuse, was an advisor during the randomised controlled trial of IRIS, a general practice-based domestic violence and abuse training support and referral programme that is now commissioned and running in 29 areas of England and Wales.
Kim was not used to sitting in steering meetings, developing topic guides, asking people to sign consent forms, operating a dictaphone or interviewing women who had had similar experiences to her own. The twelve women who were interviewed for the project, seven of whom I had worked with and supported after referrals from their GPs, had never spoken about their experience of domestic violence before, had never been recorded and struggled to believe that their voices could be of interest, relevance and importance to anyone. Their abusers had persuaded them that they were useless, worthless, nothing.
By agreeing to their GP making a referral for specialist support, talking about their experience and sharing their lives, the women involved in our paper did a lot more than come out of their comfort zones.
They moved from isolation, control and silence to, over time, being able to say what they wanted, how they wanted, when and where they wanted to say it. They were supported to do this safely and on their own terms.
Their voices have now been heard widely, not only via the paper in the BJGP, and are used in the training that the IRIS teams have carried out in hundreds of general practices across England and Wales.
One woman summarised, “This is not just for me, it’s for my children and women like me out there.” Another woman said, “I felt inspired when I went back home”.
Let’s all do something outside our comfort zone today and get inspired!