From maternity back to general practice

by Karthiga Gengatharan

Returning to work after pregnancy is a challenge that needs support from the profession to help retain doctors

Location: UK
Published: Wednesday 18 November 2020
Karthiga Gengatharan

While sat in a medical director’s meeting, discussing GP retention, I was astonished by the number of GPs leaving the profession, particularly women in their 30s, with 40 per cent under the age of 40. 

These stats really struck a personal note as, not only was I in this age group (at the time!) but as I reflected back on my own experience of pregnancy and returning to work, it wasn’t hard to recall the challenges that navigating motherhood and career presents. 

Through the work the local medical committee already provides we were already all too aware of GPs leaving the profession for a variety of reasons. I also had a number of colleagues and friends who have left medicine and was struck by how important it was to try and assist with retention and mitigate the workforce crisis.

Having faced unexpected challenges during my pregnancies owing to illness, I had first-hand experience of the difficulties that can face women during pregnancy and returning to work. I had not anticipated how tricky juggling home and work life would be and I admit that I did consider quitting medicine.

Fortunately, when I returned to work after my second child, I was offered 1:1 coaching for my CCG (clinical commissioning group) clinical lead role. The coaching gave me the confidence to realise that I could do it. I was also fortunate that many of my medical friends were also having babies at a similar time and we were able to chat about the challenges we were facing and give each other advice and tips.

I was also lucky to have support from my employers at the LMC, CCG and my practice when I returned back to work. Finding the time to review the BMA guidance during my pregnancy was also incredibly informative.

I now work as a sessional GP, a medical director at SSLMCs (Surrey and Sussex LMCs) and as training hub chair in Croydon. This type of portfolio career affords me flexibility which I really value. I am also undertaking coaching training in the hope of assisting others with their challenges and giving them the confidence they need to pursue their dreams. 

In 2017, I had the idea of setting up a workshop aimed at providing advice, information and a support network to help with the transition from maternity back to general practice.

I was keen to have a group coaching session so the attendees could share learning and benefit from sharing tips and experiences with each other. I also included other elements that I would have found beneficial when I was pregnant and returning to work, including: leave entitlements, maternity pay, financial advice, appraisal and revalidation, wellbeing, perinatal mental health and flexible working options. In 2018, SSLMCs held the first maternity coaching workshop.

The workshops have now evolved into three separate entities: ‘embarking on maternity leave’, ‘returning to work’ and ‘already returned to work’. Babes in arms were welcomed to the workshops. We were fortunate to receive funding from NHS Improvement to roll out further workshops in a number of areas.

We were thrilled that, ‘…attendees felt better informed and supported with their work-life balance’; ‘better prepared for appraisals and revalidation’ and that, ‘they valued the peer support, networking and shared learning and the self-care presentations’.

Other feedback included:

  • ‘Well –organised, jam packed day filled with useful tips and great networking opportunities
  • ‘LMCs are very helpful and supportive and will help me manage being a parent and continue work as a GP ...’
  • ‘Learning about self-care and how to improvework  life balance’ 
  • ‘Feel more prepared for both leaving and returning to work’
  • ‘Thank you for caring enough to support us’
  • … just wanted to say a massive well done for today. All the attendees were clearly loving the day and so engaged! I think it meant a lot to them that someone cared enough to put on such a workshop. Well done!’ 

We understand the increased stress and challenges this year has presented and how hard isolation can be. So, despite the pandemic, we worked hard to successfully deliver the workshops online.

Thankfully, they worked really well, particular to those on maternity leave, preparing to return to an unfamiliar work environment. The opportunity the online workshop afforded to meet colleagues in a similar position and discuss common problems was noted to be particularly valuable.

We are now delighted to present a series of two webinars (based on the maternity coaching workshops) which have been produced with the education, training and workforce committee. The webinars, will cover:

  • Financial advice
  • Appraisal and revalidation
  • CPD
  • Flexible working options
  • Wellbeing
  • And the opportunity to discuss and learn from each other.

We have also produced a guide, which I’m sure you will find really helpful. It has been developed to support and guide you and your employer through each stage of your pregnancy and return to work and supports the information you will gain from the webinars.

I look forward to seeing you there. Please email any questions you might have to us at the address below.

We hope to make your pregnancy and return to work as smooth as possible so you can be the best you can be at work and in your home life!

Karthiga Gengatharan is medical director for Surrey & Sussex LMCs