Can You Be A Medic And A Mum?

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.

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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.

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3 thoughts on “Can You Be A Medic And A Mum?

  1. When I took up my GP retainee role with a 1 year old daughter, full in the knowledge that we wanted another child, I had a couple of sleepless nights prior to gently confronting the practice manager regarding the issue of my contract stipulating that I would only be eligible for statutory maternity pay. They very graciously checked the BMA model contract and changed mine in line with this. I had no real support from those overseeing the retainer program who see this as an issue at practice level. I became pregnant mercifully easily, not unplanned, after working for them 8 months and worked until 36+ weeks and believe I worked full tilt until I stopped. The practice could not be more supportive in their attitude to me, and despite this, I feel guilty. I worry that they as a practice foot the bill of my mat pay in full, whereas they do not pay my full salary when I work for them as this is supplemented by NES,unlike my mat pay. I worry that even if a job were to come up closer to home, which would make my life a lot easier, I need to re-pay my “debt” to the practice I currently work for. As you clearly state, it is impossible for it to be a level playing field, we just need to muddle through the best we can. I hope to work hard for them on my return from mat leave, avoid “taking the piss” with the amount of time I take off and try to enjoy my 2 ( despite a tantruming 2 and a half year old and 2 week old who insists on feeding at 2 hour intervals overnight!!) for now. P says it must be possible to be a full time working medic if you have the time and energy for a blog!! I am impressed too!

  2. Love it Penny! As a first time mummy returning full-time to a Cardiology SpR job I’m right there with you! You’ve made me feel better about things now too:) my return was full- time end of! Hard doesn’t even begin to describe it at the moment & I only have 1 baby;) xxx

  3. had similar problems with a trip to australia when I was offered a hospital post and the start was defered for 8 months, i took the opportunity to visit my husbands family. I had a baby just over a year after returning to work but i need to be back about 4 more weeks to be allowed full mat pay.

    I debated with various parties and the thing that was most disapointing is that different hospitals gave different answers to the situation and the deanery gave no support but in the end as you, i let it drop thinking overall its better to accept the benefits i did get. I have remained full time and my husband stays at home so at present i have had no part time working issues.

    *****My advise to others try and understand the rules but basically if you have had a break in training wait 6 months before getting pregnant (or perhaps negociate a defered start as unpaid leave)******

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