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Going on maternity leave as a junior doctor was a learning curve in many ways.
Medical staffing seemed to believe that I was the first junior doctor who had ever become pregnant. No one seemed to know what the necessary paperwork was, or who would be in charge of it. As junior doctors we’re in a slightly different situation to the permanent members of staff – we rotate through jobs and this just compounded the confusion.
A particularly challenging issue for the HR department was the fact that I needed to extend my contract so that it wouldn’t run out while I was on maternity leave. I remember starting this process when I was only in the early days of my pregnancy and I kept asking about it on a monthly basis. Eventually, I went on maternity leave still waiting for the paperwork to be sorted out. I was worried as I knew it could put me in a vulnerable position but eventually it came through.
My advice for anyone else in that position: chivvy, chivvy, chivvy... and keep written records of everything. The BMA’s information about flexible training and maternity leave was really helpful and it was reassuring to know I could get advice from the BMA helpline if I needed it. I also got advice from my midwife about how to obtain a MAT B1 form.
Some colleagues seemed judgmental about when I had chosen to start a family. There’s often the unspoken expectation that female doctors only get pregnant at registrar level, or even as consultants or fully qualified GPs. This irritated me – it shouldn’t be anyone else’s business when you start a family and I don’t feel we should have to justify our choices.
There are, of course, significant financial considerations as well as personal ones. As a GP trainee, for example, you’re aware that becoming pregnant as a GP registrar means you would accrue maternity pay on a decent salary. Pregnancy as a self-employed GP locum, however, would have no occupational maternity pay whatsoever – there is statutory maternity pay but it’s minimal in comparison.
From a personal viewpoint, I found that starting a family in my F2 year was right for me and my husband. In some ways, it was hard coming out of training when I had only been doing the job for a relatively short time. Going back after maternity leave was particularly challenging as I had lost the familiarity with my day-to-day role. But this is not unique to me – it can happen after maternity leave at any stage of your career.
The good thing about having children early is that I did manage to train LTFT (less than full-time) and I will be going into the job market with slightly older children. I also had the additional supervision as a trainee and not an independent practitioner when returning to work.
My own belief is that it will become increasingly common for trainees to have children at an earlier stage in their career. It used to be more common to enter medicine as your first degree, but there’s an increasing number of graduate and mature students or people who have taken a long path before qualifying as a doctor. Most of us are slightly older than the typical just-qualified doctor of 30 years ago.
There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to the best time to take a career break or go LTFT whether it’s to have a baby or not. Most importantly, the stage at which we choose to start a family is our own choice, and our choice only.
Written by a doctor in the south of England who now works as an ST3 GP trainee
I have read you post online and was wondering if I could have some advice please. I am a medical student in year 5, I am really confused with life. Me andy partner really want to plan for a baby, however we also want to be closer to my parents if I was to get pregnant. My home deanery would be south Thames, which means a split between central and outer London. Obviously it would be more ideal if I was to hve a baby to be closer to home (Brighton/Eastbourne) I am 28 years old, this is my second degree and I am ready for a family in the next few years. If possible please could I have some advice on when the best time to get pregnant so a) I still have a form of income b) I could possibly apply to be closer to home after the birth?
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