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How to have it all as a GP and a mum

Over the past 10 years, Dr Vicky Blackburn has learned to juggle a busy GP partnership with being a mother of three. How?

Accepting that you cannot be all things to all people is an important lesson to learn. It is actually quite refreshing to accept this, and to remember that you can curtail your expectations without curtailing your aspirations.

I hope my Top  Tips,( honed through blood, sweat and beers), help ?!

1.       Pick your husband well. My husband is a non-medic, and not a particularly high earner, but he has accepted that my career , as a GP Partner, must take priority over his. He appreciates the fact that with Partnership comes responsibility, and this has been exceptionally helpful. If you are maried to another GP or Medic they can certainly empathisize with your feelings of responsibility . They can even update you on the latest thesis on CKD over supper ( I have a freind who claimed CPD points for this!), but they  will have similar resposibilities, and this can cause friction. This is particulary the case when kids are ill, boilers breakdown or colleagues need covering at short notice. If you have a good additional support network- friends or family- then this is less critical.

2.       Pick your Practice well. I trained at a  semi-rural practice, only 4 miles from where I work now. It couldn’t be more different . One practice was busy and large, and had a choatic busy ‘buzz’. The GPs there became friends, but I am very glad they are not my colleagues. The ‘buzz’ is fun, but exhausting. When working  there   GPs do not get home at lunch-time, and are rarely home before 8pm. My current Practice is busy, but smaller. This means we can make time at lunchtime, and manage appointments according to demand. Being in a small practice suits me well as I like to feel I have some knowlegde of the patients- who is (really) ill? Palliative? Bereaved? Weird?  In a large practice, with more patients it is not always possible to ‘share’ this knowlege with everone, particularly if the practice has ‘named’ patient lists. There are, however, benefits in having more GPs around. There are more doctors to cover during  sickness, and more doctors to ask if you are uncertain of something (you could even ask 2 GP colleagues if the first did not agree with your diagnosis!).

 Pick a Practice that suits your needs emotionally ( I am clearly a control freak!), and logistically. I realised I did not want to live too near my patients when I found myself shouting like a fish-wife in the park, dressed in puke stained track suit bottoms and a ‘Smiths’ T-shirt: I was not sure I was happy to share my inadequate parenting skills and other intimate details of my life with all who I see ’ professionally’!

3.       Pick your Staff well. I havebeen lucky and inherited a fantastically loyal practice staff. We have made mistakes, and this can be very stressful . It is amazing how 1 poor performing  individual or prima donna (be they Clinical or Non-clinical staff) can make the whole team of 13 staff feel low. Make sure you have robust interview processes and never ever ever take on anyone permanently without a 6month or 12month get-out clause. It’s just fairer for both the practce and the new employee.

4.       Make Communication within the Practice a priority. My experience has taught me that when you have a busy life or stresses outside the practice, it is easy to make assumptions that colleagues know what is going on. I have made the mistake of assuming that the chaps that I work with will notice if I am ‘under par’. They may not understand that the fact that my husband is away on business/ or my mother is unwell is causing me distress. Working with men has taught me that you really do need to flag-up any problems outside and inside the practice. They wont offer to help, or make allowances for you but at least they will UNDERSTAND why you are teary over coffee. It is also my experience that problems between Partners really explode once their is communictation breakdown. So, skipping the ’ drinks with Partners’ is not wise.

5.        Learn to delegate, and say ‘No!’. This can be difficult as most mulit-taskers, who are problem solvers (like most GPs), like to sort out  problems. Whilst it can be debated that we certainly have a moral obligation to hep our patients as much as we can, be aware it is not in our contracts to be their legal advocate, personal referee or represent them in any other capacity. It is not only at work that we need to say ‘No’, but also at home. Looking after other  peoples children, when you should be catching up on some sleep/ shopping or appraisal paperwork has a knock-on effect.

6.       Learn to say ‘Yes’! Say ‘Yes’ to study leave (even if it is on your day off/ very inconvenient as you have to get childcare sorted). Say ‘Yes!’ to offers of help, both inside and outside work. People will stop offering to help if you don’t start accepting some assistance.

Say ‘Yes’ to doing things that you enjoy. I make time to write , and do a  Health ‘phone-in’ on local radio. If you have an interest, nuture it, even if you are buy. Oneday it may finiacially pay off, but every day it will boost your esteem and confidence.

7.       Be prepared to make mistakes and don’t judge yourself too harshly. General Practice, and managing children, gets easier with experience. Don’t let people put you down- you can only do your best, and your home life means that you have lots of life expereince to pass onto your patients. And your GP life means you have a wealth of experience to pass onto your children.Th e skills you learn when negiotaiting with toddlers, running a home and handling a husband are immensely useful in General Practice , and are valid skills for life ( why not out  claim them as points in your CPD?).


Dr Vicky Blackburn is a GP in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Readers' comments (6)

  • Useful tips, I particularly liked the one about keeping some distance between your professional life and personal life when choosing the location.

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  • Victoria Figueira

    Great article. I had to learn to accept help to survive! I found the work place tips very useful for trainees.

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  • Much as I admire the organisational skills needed to acheive all this, you cannot achieve all this unless you are worth it as a partner. clearly you will have ticked all the boxes

    The one and only thing that makes employing a young fecund female GP worthwhile is having above average workrate and extremely good GP skills, These things are not allowed to be discussed at interview due to accusations of sexism and other PC issues

    Please acknowledge just how much help your childless partners, and/or often older male partners actually give you. We are the silent majority here.

    Most male GPs (and i realize this is a gross generalisation, though generalisations are usually based on perceived wisdom) are the main wage earner in a relationship, and historically have tended to have a wife at home during the years of breeding. (usually one quite capable of working in a profession, but taking a long career break). Consequently childcare etc is never an issue, much to the relief of their partners.

    Many female partners,(and there are now well over 50%of these nowadays) do seem to "want it all" they are married to another high earning professional, or are the higher wage earner. Either way childcare is a constant headache especially when a child is ill, and we all know who ends up providing the emergency cover in most partnerships when Dr / Mrs. phones in at 08.30, to say she will be absent due to child care issues.

    We are constantly expected to admire their flair for "Multi-tasking" (as if having a poo AND reading the newspaper doesnt count) but in reality we all grin and bear it.

    I works as a full time GP, I earn extra money as a GPwSI, and also do police work to raise my income to a level that enables a lifestyle of reasonable level. however the huge tax benefits of having 2 partners working at below 50%threshold means a part time GP + a full time (lets face it usually male) other partner mean us poor (male) drones are at some disadvantage.

    let’s face it a 1/2 time GP earns a very good income. Especially if they are a second wage earner.
    the constant complaint of childcare costs and need for sympathy for having to keep "4 balls in the air" brings crocodile tears to my eyes. That is the price you pay for working and having a family. your (GP)partners have often already born the costs of maternity leave etc.

    This may seem a rant from an intolerant sexist luddite,
    its not.
    I dont moan at my female partners, I cover their time off all the time. i champion the cause of familly practice and work /life balance, however I have noticed a rather worrying trend (a bit like entitled demander benefit ( init ) claimants) that means we get no thanks or aknowledgement for the support we provide.

    its called being taken for granted!

    Ps incase you wondered I am a male partner, with quite a few younger female partners.

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  • "we all know who ends up providing the emergency cover in most partnerships when Dr / Mrs. phones in at 08.30, to say she will be absent due to child care issues", says Anon above - that's probably because Dr/Mr doesn't take his share of the responsibility of child care. Anon also says his isn't a rant - it most certainly is, and sadly he doesn't state whether he is married or has children, so a little difficult to put in any other context. Dr Blackburn's article is as much a very useful guide to improve relations between female and male GPs as it is a guide to help female GPs with children do what they have trained to do - provide good patient care.

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  • What a brilliant article,i have experienced all the issues raised above.Unlike Anons practice our practice isnt as giving and sharing and the person off ends up shelling out for a locum.if everyone considered dependents you might need time off for parents not just children .in this day and age of appraisal etc you cannot just take a career break without major implications to your long term career and retraining when you get back.if everyone would have a bit of give and take it would work wonders. These days a lot of families need 2incomes to get housing and schooling in good areas and we dont necessarily have a lot of choice without completely giving up a lifestyle that we may have worked very hard for.

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  • I just believe that life involves making choices and some times these are not to have children and have a career... and Yes I'm a woman and sometimes I feels that other professional that have kids have more rights than me.... Be happy with what you have and not unhappy about what you can not have, my grand mother used to say, and she was very very wise....

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