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‘She doesn’t have many friends, doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere,’ he says, as he watches his ten-year-old daughter.
We are at her birthday party. This is hardly surprising, the poor child is on her third primary school in as many years, but now my colleague has his consultant post and there will be no more house moves. We go to a lot of similar parties, my own children making up the numbers, a sort of hospital rent-a-crowd. Mummy studied with/trained with/worked with Daddy. These are your new friends.
And if it’s not continued family upheaval, because of medical training persisting into people’s mid to late 30s, it’s the challenge of balancing family life with postgraduate exams and busy jobs with long hours, long commutes for a short contract the other side of the country.
So just how hard is it being a medical offspring? Medical parents adopt different approaches to the juggling of work and parenthood. There are the absent-type medical parents, often surgical fathers or mothers who live in a different part of the country and return at the weekends.
There is the workaholic type, who despite living at home, may as well not, work 13-hour days and use every spare minute to write papers and polish their CVs. Because after all, ahead of your life, your children and your marriage, is it not the case that you must put the patient first?
Then there are those who appear to have tipped the balance in the right direction, the ones in GP-land, because it’s better for family life. Is it really? My salaried friends are finishing off their paperwork until 9pm.
I have flitted between the first two types of medical parents - absent type initially, rendering conception nothing short of a miracle. And I have used every type of childcare - nursery, childminder, grandparents, au pairs (appointed after a half-hour Skype interview). ‘Do you actually like looking after us, Mummy, or do you prefer it when someone else does?’, my eldest daughter asks me.
And then there’s the weight of expectation even pre-conception – a medic’s child must be brainy. ‘You two will have clever children,’ I was repeatedly told.
Yet some medical parents must get it right, so right in fact that they inspire their children to take up the same career. Medic begets medic, whole dynasties of doctors with dusty-framed MB BCh certificates of their forebears adorning the office wall.
My own progeny are unlikely to follow in my footsteps. They think I work too hard, ‘Do you actually want to spend any time with us before we grow up?’ and are disgusted by the thought of what I do, ‘Mummy, it’s gross.’ My daughter makes a retching noise and sticks two fingers down her throat.
Catherine Lightfoot is a consultant in the south of England. She writes under a pseudonym
Read the BMA’s guidance on life as a working parent
Those are awful working conditions.
That the BMA is happy with.
We are very fortunate here in coastal west wales to have a very sickly perfect work lifebalanec in our practice. It's down to sacrifices , work a few days less , earn a litttle less, employ more doctors, be grateful that when you are in work the job is fulfilling and interesting. I love my work , my colleagues and have plenty of time for friend and family.
Don't be too greedy.
Thank you for the above article which was very inciteful. I wanted to offer another type of medical parent: the LTFT trainee.
I train LTFT in Anaesthesia and as for my home life I feel the balance is just right. I work 60% FTE which translates to three days a week plus on calls. During the week I get to spend one day with my husband (a consultant radiologist working 12 sessions over 4 days) and one day alone with my young son. Childcare arrangements are complex as my two daughters attend different primary schools- we therefore need a nanny and a childminder. The cost is extortionate and takes up the majority of my LTFT salary, however things at home are calm and under control leaving me to focus when at work.
Accepting work life as a LTFT is not easy and it is frustrating to progress slowly whilst being constantly overtaken by your peers. However this time in reality is short and is an investment in the future. I hope to CCT before I turn 40 and will have twenty odd years as a consultant before retirement. In terms of specialty choice Anaesthesia works well due to the sessional nature of the job. Around 25% of speciality registrars train LTFT in my region.
I'm a full time GP, none of my offspring wanted to do Medicine but being a partner in a group practice and living locally has enabled me to get to parents evenings sometimes and concerts, they also did not have to move schools. This was a factor in choosing primary care (husband non-medic did not want to be moving jobs).
Loved your article, but slightly de-fessed this is still an issue. Having reached almost the end of my career I look at my fully grown non-medical children and wonder how they got to be such well balanced creatures. As a young mother and full time GP Partner (including doing our own on-call, then working for the co-op to pay the extra cost of belonging to it) I was hugely reliant on paid help and remember getting very incensed over things like the decision of their school holiday club to only take children up to the age of 11 instead of the previous 13.
Remember you don’t have to be a perfect parent - just good enough. While the long hours did put my children off pursuing medicine it didn’t stop them developing a sense of work as a worthwhile occupation, not just a means to an end, and strong values about your obligations as an employee, as well as structuring their lives to be much more balanced than mine ever was at their age. As youngsters they played on my guilt at being so often absent, as adults they are grateful for the opportunities they received. I think it’s about setting your own tolerance limits and sticking to them.
As a final medical year student who has not descended from any doctors and was raised by a stay at home Mum; the reality of medicine scares me. I am going to find this very tough when I hopefully have children. Why can’t there be options that promote women and men to bring children into the world?
it is cheaper to overwork your staff, than hire enough. Choose ur speciality carefully, consider those that travel abroad well, as I strongly suspect the pay and conditions will get worse before they get better. Remember to look out for yourself - people wanting to get u to do something will always try to convince you it is for your education, especially if it is unpaid. You need to be clear with yourself on your educational needs and plans. Work out not just your pay per month, but your pay per hour, like most self-employed people do. I have had an excellent experience locuming, and am planning to now work overseas.
Working in medicine means working in a business place much as any other, not a monastery, if you appreciate this you will be able to avoid the pitfalls, have a good time and not burn out. Read fool or physician by Theodore dalyrymple if you need some inspiration
We moved from the North to south 3 children before husband got consultant +university post GP was only available if prepared to do 51/2 day week + night & W/e on call , We had no money moving house is expensive state schools for all 3 Looking back how did we manage the kids made friends with other children who had working parents a “ club “ formed some days my 3 + 6 others for tea ! 40 + years later all 3 with good degrees& jobs ( not medicine) they have discovered many people do 12 hr days not just doctors they have kept friends from the “club” I they have good interesting lives talk to us regularly on the phone & recently during a period of ill health took in turns to come home they are decent kind good people & working parents does not caused them harm but made them integrated people close to their siblings & parents
My daughter has suffered from multiple work related school moves and finds it difficult to make friends as a result. As an only child (because of the pressures of our work - surgeon and radiologist) she is lonely at home and lonely at school. Medicine would be the last thing she would choose to do as a result of the impact it has on our family life (nights and weekends on call and extreme work-related stress) even though she would have sailed through it academically. If it were not that I had met my husband through medicine I would wish I had never done it.
Being a parent is a wonderful gift albeit incorporating lots of juggling. Perhaps though we should be appreciative of the absolute luxury we are in compared to many others in society. My colleagues simply shrugged when hearing of the hours worked by my non medical spouse and his colleagues. This too has required working away from home. And the salaries are much below medical ones despite high levels of responsibility. My colleagues stance was that these were the choices people like my husband have made, so tough luck! I suspect if many of us worked in non public sector jobs where annual leave is 20 to 25 days, working days are regularly 12 hours, weekends free of work a rarity, study leave and course payments do not exist and similarly no 4 weeks paid parental leave till our children are 13, with furthermore loss of jobs with little warning and without “golden handshakes” or meaningful redundancy payments, we would get a bit of a shock. We are very protected in our jobs compared to the workplace reality of many others. As medics, we are immensely fortunate and in turn so are the opportunities we have with our children that so many others in society do not.
I don't think I can take any more of this victim culture that the BMA and some doctors (thankfully not all) are cultivating.
Will you never be satisfied until you are paid not to work at all?
I wish you to go out into the real world and see how other, far less privileged people cope with life, work and children.
If the "helicopter parenting" of the last generation has encouraged this kind of attitude. I wonder how the next generation will turn out if they are encouraged to be victims too. In fact, is this a kind of Munchausen-by-proxy victimhood?
Of course children are going to say manipulative things - they're children, and probably intelligent ones at that! Maybe learn not to fall for it, and encourage them to learn how to deal with not getting exactly what they want in life without becoming enmeshed in the drama triangle.
This is the conundrum for any working parent who wants a fulfilling career as opposed to a mere 'job' job. It's a searing question the writer's daughter asks, precisely because it's bang on point. I think it's a question people need to ask themselves before they have children because actually, bringing a new small person into the world and raising them to be an even half-way emotionally balanced, happy and flourishing adult - is a full-time gig. And in my view just as important as looking after patients.
there's only one solution to this
marry a man who is not a doctor and can be a full time dad
they are better at bringing up small children
when the kids are older they can do non-science A levels with no expectations
especially if you husband is good at art, music and history
you can then be a full time NHS consultant and retire at 60
I was fortunate that I was a Consultant (Psychiatrist) before starting a family; Psychiatry is a fairly child-friendly specialty, and on a Consultant salary it was possible to pay for good quality childcare. I was also lucky that I had been appointed to a post in a general hospital with excellent on-site nursery which both children attended until starting at our local primary school with after school club. My husband was a nurse so was able to collect the children from the after school club, and cooked dinner (as he still does in retirement). We are a close family and our children are independent and well-adjusted; one is a doctor (F2 and planning time off). I feel I have been very lucky in so many ways, but I have also worked hard for the NHS for nearly 40 years, which I consider a great privilege.
It is extremely had being a working parent and medicine is a career which matters and is personally satisfying. Bringing up children where both parents work long hours in responsible jobs ( medical or otherwise: e.g. running your own business )is very stressful and you have to prioritise the kids. Otherwise why did you have them! It is not possible to "have it all" and it never has been. I have been lucky to have a partner who took his responsibilities seriously and we shared childcare with both of us having part time jobs, one medical and one not. Money less good but wonderful kids- none of whom want to do medicine!