Flexible Working

It Is Beneficial For Teams To Have People Who Model Healthy Work-Life Boundaries

Dr Joanna Lim

I started working LTFT when I went back to work as a trainee (ST6) after having my first baby. I stayed LTFT at 80% for the rest of my training as I rotated through the 4 fellowships on the Pan London ACHD Rotation. I finished my supposed 2 year rotation 5 years later with 3 children in tow. I found the start of each fellowship quite stressful – some of the institutions were not used to having LTFT trainees and I think I put extra pressure on myself to work really hard and disprove any negative perceptions about part-time working. I was fortunate enough to have amazing support from Cathy Head who was running the Pan London ACHD Programme at the time – without her I’m not sure I would have made it through!

People talk about the guilt that comes with being a ‘part-timer’ and feeling like you never do a good job at home or at work. I made a decision early on that I was not going to feel guilty at home because I did not want my daughter to grow up thinking that working mothers should feel guilty. I am certainly not a perfect mother, but I think I am good enough, so I don’t carry any guilt on that front (although my wise friends tell me parenting gets harder as they get older, so I suspect I will feel much less confident about my parenting in 10 years’ time!).

Dispensing with guilt about work is harder because when you do reduced hours in a full-time role, there is inevitably a deficit that someone else has to pick up on the days you’re not there, and that is harder to reconcile. However, I realised eventually that no one is there all the time – plenty of people mix NHS work with academia, private practice, or other endeavours and I have never heard any of them express feelings of guilt. Nonetheless I think this issue is probably much easier if you have a slot share arrangement. I also found an excellent role model in one of my specialist nurse colleagues. She worked reduced hours and was very disciplined about keeping to them, but she made the most epic contribution during those hours and we were all in awe of what she achieved. It was helpful for me to realise that you could be part-time AND a highly valued, integral member of the team. I think it is also beneficial for teams to have people like her who model healthy work-life boundaries.

I was appointed as Consultant specialising in ACHD at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in 2019. I work 8PAs in 4 days and I really enjoy my job. I have wonderful colleagues who are incredibly supportive of this arrangement, in particular my Consultant colleague Liz Orchard with whom I work most closely. On my day off I put an ‘out of office’ on my email and try very hard not to do any medical work and to focus purely on the kids. My husband works shifts but he also has one consistent weekday off with the kids. This works really well for us. The rest of the time we use wraparound care and we are pretty much 50/50 in terms of drop-offs and pick-ups, although I do most of the childcare at weekends as he works 1 in 2.

The advantage of working this way is that I find it very fulfilling as both a mother and a doctor. The disadvantage is that life is totally full-on and can sometimes feel overwhelming. I really struggle to find time to do the ‘extra-curricular activities’ my peers do, like writing papers and guidelines. Whilst our childcare arrangement works well at the moment, I don’t by any means feel that we have got it ‘sorted’ – I fully anticipate ups and downs and we will undoubtedly need to review and adapt our arrangements in time as everyone’s needs change.

For now however, I feel incredibly grateful for our current situation. Over the past year I have also got better at recognising when I am feeling overwhelmed and making time for myself to decompress. I found working with a coach really helpful in that respect, and I also discovered yoga, which has been a revelation – I would highly recommend both!

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