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At the heart of general practice since 1960

The many trials of female doctorhood

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This is a feminine column. I’m telling you now so if you’re a male colleague, you might want to put it down. Or not, if you want to learn something new. After embarking on a rare shopping trip without the kids, I decided it was time for new make-up. I explained to the girl at the cosmetics counter that general practice plus two kids were taking their toll on my face. ‘I’ve got these dark circles, and, erm, wrinkles around my eyes. Can you sort them out?’

She appraised me. ‘Well, I can get rid of the circles or the wrinkles, but not both. You have to choose. Keep the circles or the wrinkles?’

This isn’t the most difficult choice I’ve faced in my career so far, but it’s up there. It’s so simple for the men – smart trousers, shirt and tie. Not jeans or trainers. Job done. (My husband tells me it isn’t that simple, but what does he know?) Let me talk you through the art of pretending you’re a put-together professional woman. It’s hard.

The make-up has to cover the exhaustion, but not be so heavy I look like a clown

My day starts with getting everyone else ready, then trying to have a shower myself in the two minutes I have left. Wardrobe choice is impossible. If I reach for a skirt or dress, I have to check how far it rides up when I sit down, as well as its length when standing, to avoid excess thigh exposure. Next is the challenge of finding tights without holes, and in a colour that won’t show dust when I have to kneel on the floor to examine a foot or a child. The same goes for trousers, with the added complication of finding a pair that doesn’t require those strange uncomfortable knickers. You know what I mean, ladies.

Tops have to pass the cleavage test, conducted by leaning forward in the mirror. Otherwise, listening to chests can lead to awkward glances at your bra. 

Jewellery must be non-dangly. Dangly necklaces and leaning over for PVs is a bad combination. No need to say more.

The make-up has to cover the exhaustion, but not be so heavy I look like a clown. I go for the type that is smudge resistant for up to 10 hours. Hair must be easy to do in a hurry – ponytail is ideal, or if you can get away with short and tousled, great. Mine is that annoying in-between length so I look permanently dishevelled. Are there any infection control issues with a hat, I wonder?

Then, with any luck, I can plan for lunch. I spent a few weeks living off stale biscuits and the emergency Haribo bag in the car, before I discovered Graze boxes. My doctor’s bag now has more instant snacks than actual drugs.

If, like me, you have small children, once you have mastered the wardrobe, make-up, hair and food, you have to negotiate porridge-smeared faces, sticky fingers and the dog. My youngest has started licking my clothes when I go out instead of kissing me. It would be cute if it didn’t leave snotty smears on my thighs.

Grab a coat (check it isn’t shorter than the skirt to avoid looking naked on home visits). Find shoes – slight heel, no suede, easy to wipe mud off if I end up on a farm. And I’m ready for the day. The only thing I have left to worry about is the medicine. Surely that can’t be any harder?

Dr Zoe Norris is a GP in Hull

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Readers' comments (10)

  • An entertaining read - but surely you mean check that the coat IS shorter than the skirt?

    On the other hand, I'm a man, I might just have misunderstood!

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  • Good spot - see you did learn something

  • I remember those days with little children! With time, the wrinkles get worse, and the bags get better, I think... The norm is to get frumpier with age (swap short coat for bobbly cardigan), but it works all ways! Glad to hear you are taking the job in your stride with a good pinch of humour. Good luck with the wardrobe - it would be easier if we could all wear scrubs/uniform I say!

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  • As a bloke no tie, not ever, not even for CQC! Sleeves of smart shirt rolled up, not so smart now. Smart trousers crease up from sitting in chair- not so easy Zoe!!
    Smart dark jeans are comfortable, stretch when getting on the floor to play and examine kids and don't crease up. Plus they are harder wearing too. Wash inside out and I make a good pair of jens last longer than chinos and my smart suit trousers are in the wardrobe for special events only!

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  • As a Practice Manager & man its a little different - but many similar issues. Dress smart enough to look like the boss, and in business shoes for meetings etc. But then its steel toe caps and boiler suit for the obligatory climb into the loft or fixing various pieces of kit. Tie pin so you don't get it in the toilet as you unblock it. And try to get out of the house without breakfast, toothpaste or frozen stickers from the kids. Load six bags and two kids into the car, get to nursery, get to work, get to school pick up on time.

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  • Thank you for writing a very true realistic picture of my daily working day!

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  • I was a full time GP and a male single parent of 3 children aged 4 6 and 8
    I loved every minute of it all
    Even when a mother came up to me in the playground while I waited for my children ( I was the talk of the school for a bit ) and asked if I cooked their tea
    I told her that I had 4 A levels and two degrees ( MBChB ) and picking and cooking something to go with chips or a jacket spud was not that challenging
    Who said men were the chavaunists ?

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  • So true, especially avoiding the suede shoes. My tip is to get showered and dressed BEFORE everyone else.

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  • Zoe, you made me feel so relieved to be a male gender in the GP profession

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  • Zoe, you made me feel so relieved to be a male gender in the GP profession. To say the least, I don't need to worry about the cleavage problem, never mind about getting everybody ready for the day before starting your own work.

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  • I am so glad I am now a granny (Practice Manager while at work!) complete with wrinkles, bags and smiles. Your letter brought back memories of the crazy but lovely life of being a young, exhausted working mum. Well done for surviving and keep up the good work!

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