GP work and parenting: a story of two vocations

Anupma Parihar is a Salaried GP in London, writer and radio broadcaster.

Vocation: a type of work that you feel you are suited to doing and to which you should give all your time and energy, or the feeling that a type of work suits you in this way’1

‘It happens to lots of doctors….’

These were the sympathetic words once spoken to me by a car mechanic as he assessed the result of my post night shift car crumple. ‘I have one consultant customer who is always trying to figure out what’s up with his patients when he’s driving home’. His sigh indicated the impacts of this on the said doctor’s car.

I sensed understanding and respect in his words but also felt wary of the type of work I was buying into.

Because of what we see and do, ‘switching off’ from our work is an integral part of each day and when we can’t, as the above story illustrates- something gives. The anecdote powerfully highlights the proportion of headspace we devote to patient care and the need for ‘housekeeping’ our experiences expertly described by Roger Neighbour in his work on the inner consultation.2

Because of what we see and do, ‘switching off’ from our work is an integral part of each day and when we can’t …. something gives.

My housekeeping extends into my children’s pick up time at primary school . It is unavoidable with the rhythms of work and school. I often feel like a smiling doll to fellow parents, unable to adequately describe my day in response to their kind questions while I ponder on whether I should have dipped Ms X’s urine . Sometimes the thoughts continue right through the ‘how was your day?’ chatter and journey home, leaving my patient and playground thoughts deeply entwined. After a while however, the consulting room seems a far off reality in the face of clubs, tea, homework and bedtime. And so the wheel turns

This is the story of many of us ‘part timers’ . A life of great joy yet unavoidable opposition. Part time parents as GP’s have many ways to empathise and guide through pregnancy, sleep deprivation, feeding and weight loss worries right through to grandparenthood, together with other generic and specific concerns. We are reliable baby checkers and aware of the logistics of schools, challenges of teenagers, managers of high emotion, understanding of the juggle between care of our elderly and young and other challenges life brings . My ears and mind are open, focussed and ready to consult, teach, and more but yes I have a time limit and with that comes the ancient and existential question ‘Am I doing enough?

The current governmental and media criticisms of our profession3,4,5 and ‘part time workforce’ would have me believe ‘no’. I find myself gently explaining to patients that ‘we have been open’ over the pandemic and that we share the joy in a face to face appointment (which definitely still happens) several times a day. Justifying my choice to work school hours only has proved more of an internal dialogue that I have had to make peace with.

The ancient and existential question ‘Am I doing enough?

The Cambridge dictionary definition of a vocation, included at the beginning of this piece, highlights how we give our all to our field, which for most of us involved large quantities of time in our junior years. When those hours lessen it can be hard to reconcile. I would argue that longevity in our career as time goes on evolves into giving our all when we are at work however many hours that may be.

To practice holistically we need to live holistically and honestly, respect each aspect of our identity and relationships. For those of us who parent, our children inhabit a lion’s share of that headspace where up till now medicine has ruled. This maybe symbolised by our working rota.

There’s the rub. I must practice two vocations, challenging the earnestness with which I sat at the interview table often in my teens describing my single pointed devotion to a job which is the best in the world, to now sharing that feeling with small, beloved humans on my watch. Impossible? Maybe, but it would be life’s greatest privilege to try and honour both and grow in the process.



  2. Roger Neighbour. The Inner Consultation, MTP, 1987


Featured image by Ian Schneider at Unsplash     

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