When I first returned back from nearly 16 months of maternity leave, even putting in a cannula felt like Everest. Everyone told me that returning to work is just like riding a bike, that you never really forget how to practice Medicine. Yet there I was, in my first week back, trying to look up the dose for Ibuprofen in the BNF without anyone noticing.
Months on I’m still figuring a few things out, but I thought I’d share my top 10 tips of things that have helped me in returning to work after maternity leave.
1. Be kind to yourself
For me, returning to work gave me serious “Mummy Guilt”. I found it really difficult to leave Joshua, and guilty at the same time that I secretly enjoyed having a bit of “me” back. Initially I felt that I wasn’t able to give either my job, or my family 100%, and wondered how other women seemed to “have it all”. But when you speak to other doctor Mums, no one really feels like that. Give yourself a pat on the back. You are a mummy now. And you’re a doctor. That’s an incredible achievement. You’re providing a strong female role model for your child. You are a superwoman and an awesome Mum.
One top tip to make this transition easier, book your little one into nursery, with their childminder or ask your nanny to shadow at least a couple of weeks before you start. This will give you both time to settle in and means you’ll be more confident when you go back to work.
2. Don’t set unrealistic expectations for yourself
You will have deskilled whilst you’ve been out of clinical medicine. And that is totally ok. Be aware of what skills you need to practise and you’ll be back at your peak in no time. I would suggest using your KIT days. You get 10 of these during your maternity leave; you can do whatever you want with them and if you chose to spend them on the shop floor you’re supernumerary. I used these to go back to Anaesthetics and ICU to gain back my practical skills. (Top tip: do your KIT days in the unpaid bit of your maternity leave, if you do them in your accrued annual leave you won’t get paid for them).
3. Download apps to make your life easier
There is a huge range of medical apps now to cognitively offload you. Download the BNF and double check your drug doses. Download a paeds app that calculates drug doses for you and has the APLS algorithms in.
4. Consider booking some courses and get up to date
Courses are a great way to give you more confidence. For example, sick kids have always scared me, and refreshing my APLS gave me a much needed confidence boost. Again, you can use your KIT days for these. Use #FOAMed for free, on the go learning. I find podcasts particularly useful, and listen to these on my commute, and even occasionally whilst rocking the baby to sleep! I’d highly recommend St Emlyn’s, The Resus Room, Don’t Forget the Bubbles, Life in the Fast Lane, SMACC and EM3.
5. Check out return to work schemes
Some deaneries have return to work schemes such as SuppoRTT, offering supernumerary days to gain back skills, and extra funding for courses.
6. Get in touch with your ES and your rota co-ordinator early
Make sure you’re not returning to maternity leave straight onto nights. Recent high profile cases have given us all a stark warning of this. Ask to not be put on nights/weekends on calls for at least a couple of weeks. Or ask to be doubled up overnight. Be open with your colleagues about feeling rusty, and chat through your first few decisions.
7. Find time to complete your admin
Often it is so busy on the shop floor that it is difficult to get your other training commitments done during clinical shifts. Most trusts now offer SPA days. I would advise not to be tempted to try and do these from home whilst looking after your little ones. Get your e-portfolio started early in the year so you’re not under pressure as ARCP approaches. Feel free to say no to things when you first go back; you don’t have to take on extra things especially whilst you’re settling in.
8. It’s normal to have a wobble
It’s common to feel like quitting when you first go back. No one prepares you for the exhaustion of returning to work and doing shifts, whilst looking after a little one. Feeling rusty can really knock your confidence. My advice? Don’t make any quick decisions, it does get better. One colleague told me it took about six months just to feel like she was treading water, rather than sinking. Stick with it!
9. Check out what financial breaks you can get
Money can be an additional worry when returning from maternity leave, particularly if you are coming back LTFT. Check out what financial help you can get. For example, sign up for Tax Free Childcare or Childcare Vouchers if you are eligible, and see whether you qualify for a reduced membership rate with RCEM or with your union.
10. Most importantly, give yourself a break
Going back to work is not easy. It’s a huge change for both you and your family and it can take some time to find your work/life balance. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. If possible, try and build in some days into your rota where you have a break from both work and childcare. For me, this is a real safety valve. Consider offloading other demands on your time. Start online shopping, consider getting a cleaner. Book some annual leave about 2 months after you return back for some “me time”. Get a new work wardrobe. It is absolutely ok to look after yourself. The happier you are, the more you can give to your kids, and to your work.
Remember, it is absolutely ok to not feel ok. There will be plenty of other trainees and consultants who have been through it all before, reach out to them. I would also highly recommend joining the Physician Mums Group on Facebook. This is an amazing community of doctor mums who know exactly what it’s like being a mummy and having a full on job.
Enjoy your new family and having a smiling face to return home to. Remember, you are an awesome Mum and Superwoman. You got this.
Dr Sammy Batt-Rawden is an ST4 dual trainee in Emergency and Intensive Care Medicine. She is also Chair of The Doctors’ Association UK and runs the 10 Things to Know account on Twitter. She is Mummy to Joshua who is now 16 months and is a little terror.