How to be a GP Locum with Young Children
A juggler delights the child; he fills the working mum with admiration. Like him, she must have great poise and timing. And like him, she must deal with those extra pieces, keeping them in seamless motion. There is no room for error. It is hardly comfortable in the beginning, but the burden diminishes with each passing day, to a point where something quite as complex becomes autonomic.
I am a doctor, a mother, and try to be everything else the world expects of me. Indeed, I love my work, but am spared none of the attendant guilt. No working mum can possibly be.Your heart breaks when you cannot make it by their bedtime, drop them off at school in the morning, or miss sports day or nativity play. You ask yourself, “Is this truly worth it?”
Often, a great many are pushed to a discomforting choice: it is either home and family or work. But there is hope and things need not come to one such pass. Locum work allows me to juggle the two demanding roles. In fact, it is a saviour and rescues me from the pain of wondering what could have been.
It all occurs within an encouraging trend of being seen as a loyal and productive talent pool. “Great employers do not penalise women for motherhood,” strategic consultant Patty Azar of the US-based Vision Alignment says. “And mums must realise they will be expected to balance their lives.”
The flexibility that comes with locum work is most conducive to good balance, especially when the children are small or,more specifically, upon returning from maternity leave. You can ease back in with just a few sessions a week—working around nights busy with feeds and nappy changes—and consider having a late start with catch-ups. You can choose both the volume and type of work. If you want to do only clinics, go for it. Options are available with local surgeries,federation locality hubs and walk-in centres. Sometimes, there is a lot of demand for female GPs in gynaecology, and practices are quite happy to accommodate you if interested.
In some parts, there are acute visiting services during the day. This is a good option too. You can negotiate a full day, with 5.30 pm finish perhaps, if you have kids to pick up from school. If you are looking for better pay, it could be half-a-day on call. The options are endless. Look around, let your LMC, CCG, federation or local practices know that you are available but would prefer child-friendly hours. You will be surprised at the number of offers. I was.
Everything has not been answered just yet. “What do I do when the child is ill?” This question lingers in every mother’s harried mind.
The first five years are the worst as they are building their immunity. When my son started nursery at the age of six months—just a couple of mornings a week—my weekends were spent nursing him back to health. It did not help that it was wintertime. But I put him in nursery a couple of months before resuming work, which meant that I had faced the worst and put him in the rhythm of routine as well.
I had not been spared the dilemma of asking, “Do I send him to nursery or stay at home?” It was not easy to answer initially. But things did fall into place. On a few occasions,when I judged he was not very ill, I sent him loaded with paracetamol, with instructions to contact me if his condition took a dip.
Later, I developed a few more strategies to deal with unforeseen illnesses: accepting help from family and friends;developing a ‘buddy system’ in which working mothers help each other out at short notice; and having in the phonebook a few good child-minders who can be relied upon to manage routine illness. If there is an emergency, it is always a good idea to have in one’s Network Locum (now Lantum) GPs who can fill in at short notice.
Even with all these in place, there will be times when there is no option but to put your child first and miss work. That is okay. No need to beat yourself over it. Explain the situation to the practice as soon as you feel you might have to miss work. Most will understand. But it is equally vital for the working mum to understand that these years will soon pass. Until then,it is best to enjoy the juggle.
Dr Preeti Shukla