Feeling the sun on your face, sipping your cocktail as you listen to the waves lapping the beach, you are filled with the blissful feeling of relaxation. Suddenly your reverie is disturbed by a voice ... ‘What do you think doctor?’
Your eyes come into focus faced with the greying toenails and bunions of Mrs Jones for the 5th time in two weeks. The reality of 15 visits in the howling wind and rain after 10 extras in your morning surgery dawns and your heart sinks.
I doubt there are many GPs who, when faced with another Monday morning surgery, haven’t toyed with the idea of taking a career break. For most of us, it is something of an idle dream, fuelled by a desire to consign QOF and endless surgeries to the bin. A fresh challenge — preferably involving a beach and unlimited sun lounging — seems like a wonderful idea.
A significant number of people do pursue career breaks at some point during their working lives (though perhaps with less beach time). For many it is a proactive decision based on a desire to switch direction professionally or take a study opportunity. More commonly, many — like me — take an extended break after the birth of a child.
After eight years in the NHS I felt ready for a change in my life and my son arrived four years later, not as soon as I would have liked. But, despite the wait, I realised that I hadn’t really considered the practicalities needed to make the best of the opportunity.
There are many challenges, especially for doctors who have medical competency and other time-dependent issues to consider — such as revalidation, which is on the horizon. This is why career breaks will be covered at the BMA’s Sessional GP conference in October — which will also devote a specific section to revalidation — and why the recent locum GP handbook has a hefty chunk on the subject.
For me, the most important issue was having a serious think about the long-term impact it would have on my career. It’s all too easy once becoming a busy mum to forget about this completely — until its too late. That’s why it is so important to plan.
I was also conscious that if my career break took longer than two years I would have to undergo induction and refresher training. This could prove to be a very complicated and expensive move as schemes like this become scarcer, with funding often pulled for retainer schemes in many areas.
I made sure I was aware of my maternity rights and benefits in my job and had planned financially for my time out of work, including considering my pension contributions as time out from the scheme can have implications when you retire.
Most importantly, I made sure I was up to date with what was happening clinically while not at work. I maintained my subscription to the BMA at a reduced maternity-leave rate and would pick an article to read every week. I also intend to go on an update course before I return to work and will use my ‘keeping in touch’ days to make sure I don’t de-skill before returning to work.
All in all, a career break can be a hugely positive experience, whether by enhancing you skills and education, or by having the chance to spend more time with your child. But if you are going to reap the benefits it can bring you must plan — and plan well.
Clare Singleton is a sessional GP in Manchester GP, currently on maternity leave
Where can you do good refresher training courses? I am on a 2 year career break and think i would benefit from one before i go back to work.
Glad you're keeping busy Clare! I found each of my three maternity leaves gave me time to pause and try and achieve a manageable balance between work and the rest of my life- and also appreciate both more...