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