The year is 2012. We live in the UK, a developed country with the world’s seventh largest economy by nominal GDP.And yet 11% of employers have no family-friendly policies and there is good evidence that some women still face discrimination and even exploitation in the workplace.Is this true of medicine as it is for other careers? A debate in Pulse
got me thinking – the question asked ‘Is General Practice A Level Playing Field For Women?’
My answer would be ‘no’ it is not a level playing field. I can only speak from personal experience. Many women doctors, like myself, are having children during their training. Whilst it is still disruptive and inconvenient in the workplace it is considerably less so than when further up the food chain. The reason being according to the Pulse debate, ‘when it comes to the specific issue of a woman becoming pregnant and having a baby, the difficulties and inconveniences begin. And, under the current system, the temptation to discriminate against young women applying for partnerships or salaried positions becomes real.’ –Dr Clarissa Fabre
My first pregnancy was at the beginning of my GP training. Prior to starting maternity leave I had to attend a meeting in the deanery to discuss my plans for returning to work, what date I planned to be back and whether I would be requesting flexible training. The options for this were working 50% full-time equivalent or full-time, black or white, all or nothing. I know other trainees put in a similar position have been upset by the options presented but I was actually quite happy to shrink my horizons and spend more time at home with my new baby. I was just thankful part-time working was an option.
And so when the time came I returned to work, doing a 50-50 job share. It worked OK, not great but we managed. We phoned each other every couple of days handing over patients, blood results and meetings. Patient care wasn’t compromised but we were very much ‘the part-timers’. If anything we were more efficient not wanting to leave anything till the next day. Not giving anyone a reason to doubt we were not capable.
Nine months after returning to work I was pregnant again and trembling in my boots when I had to tell the powers that be. This is why medicine can’t be a level playing field for women – the reason is simple, women have babies not men.
I’ve been lucky I think in that the transition from Sesame Street to stethoscope has been relatively seamless. Yes, I’ve been stalked by that spectre of guilt but I’m strong-minded enough (stubborn if you will) to be able to overcome this. Medicine and parenthood are two of the most rewarding and challenges jobs, one compliments the other and I, along with many other women, feel I can do both jobs merit.I now work full-time, this was not open for negotiation apparently. Despite my being eligible for less than full-time training as defined by European Law (EC Directive 93/16/EEC) I have not questioned the decision. Our moving to Australia whilst pregnant meant the NHS would not acknowledge by maternity leave or pay me as this was an “Out of Programme Experience”. I have not questioned these decisions either. I have experienced some discrimination from consultants and let this wash over me. Why would I do all of these things? It’s not that I have chosen to take the line of least resistance but I am able to see the bigger picture. I know I’ve been lucky although I haven’t necessarily been treated fairly. But to confront the Dean, to involve the BMA, to complain about discrimination makes me the epitome of what everyone despises about part-time workers. I want the stereotype to disappear not to fuel it. Whilst medicine, or any other career for that matter, may not be a level playing field for women we have the power to change it. If we want to be treated as equals we have to behave as such. Only by doing this are we going to remove the disincentives to employ female partners for example. It is important to remember that having children is only a small portion of a working woman’s life so let’s not sweat the small stuff. This will be good for the NHS, good for women doctors and good for our non-child-bearing colleagues as well.