Managing ‘medic mum guilt’ as a GP

Mehwish Sharif is a salaried GP in West Bromwich and does locum sessions in the Black Country.

I recall thinking about a 5 year plan after completing GP VTS. The plan was quite simple, achieving a good work-life balance between personal and professional life. I started my GP journey as a salaried GP at a practice I had trained; nice familiar safe environment, always a smiley face and always a door to knock for reassurance or a second opinion. The plan was going as I thought it should.

About a year later I discovered I was pregnant, exciting times. Unfortunately, after a very difficult pregnancy and an emergency delivery, everything became more difficult. I phased myself into work about ten months after maternity leave with apprehension as I had never had such a prolonged break away from medicine. There were new struggles and new challenges and I was juggling more at home with childcare and motherhood.

Shortly after, I realised my son wasn’t quite meeting milestones and this was highly concerning. We followed the usual procedure of referrals when he delayed with his gross motor skills and then with his speech skills and then to realise that really he was struggling and falling behind in all areas of development. The demands of motherhood increased and childcare became a problem. He just wouldn’t settle with relatives and I felt he was lacking in stimulation which could be provided in a nursery setting. We tried several nurseries and eventually found one for a period of time.

At this point in my career, I left my salaried job to become a locum GP. I felt with all the uncertainty at home, I couldn’t commit the same work days and hours as I was doing which was unfair in my colleagues and staying on was not feasible with my current childcare arrangements. Locum GP schedules fitted in nicely as I was able to arrange flexible days and start/finish times and I tried to book work near the nursery. There were often days I would get a call to collect him early. There was no diagnosis and no action plan; there were also postcode issues with getting a SENCO assessment. I was used to hearing that this may not be the best nursery for my child and I took that at a very literal level.

There were days at work with a background sadness that perhaps he was upset at nursery.

There was always guilt and pressure. Guilt of not being a 100% stay at home mum with time as a luxury and guilt of not being all that I could be as a GP, not achieving that satisfaction and sense of career growth. There were days at work with a background sadness that perhaps he was upset at nursery while I was at work or I had left him with a fever at home while I was assessing other people’s sick children. My medical friends called it the ‘medic mum guilt’. At the same time, giving up medicine and GP was not an option for many reasons; some financial but mainly because it was engaging and now I felt, perhaps a part of my identity.

Time swiftly moves along and situations change. My son has now started Reception and I’m in a new salaried post; managing all the obstacles I had before. The main change is my mindset.

One day I was I helping my son walk down stairs, I said “you can do it” to which he replied “if I try”. He was just three and speech was limited to a few words. It just clicked; there was no need for books, guidelines, references, expectations. My three-year-old had life worked out and had passed the wisdom on to me. It was, of course, all about trying in the first instance. Similarly, if any mishap comes about, be it small, he responds with “s’ok”. All is fine if you take it in your stride. Makes sense. So now we are truly five years plus from the original life plan.

In retrospect, it was probably the skills I had acquired, refined through my years of medical training and being doctor, that got me through the difficult times; resilience, dealing with pressure, coping with stress, dealing with bad news, emotional regulation, time management, task prioritisation, self development and, most importantly, the art of reflection with problem solving. Despite my initial thoughts, I was a better mum due to being a doctor.

The boundaries and distinctions between personal and professional life are clear but one will always impact on the other.

At this stage in time, I can also say the opposite is true. I am a better GP after becoming a mum. Having followed the journey with my son of hospital referrals, early years inclusion, SEN assessments and parenting with no reference milestones and no diagnosis, I have acquired and refined skills which now reflect in my practice as a GP. An increased level of patience, empathy, lateral thinking, honesty, rapport building and importantly, dealing with uncertainty. The boundaries and distinctions between personal and professional life are clear but one will always impact on the other. It’s all about embracing the roles and looking forward.

As a final thought, as my son says, it’s about doing it if you try, and if it doesn’t quite happen to plan, “s’ok”.


Feature photo: Marco Ceschi

The British Journal of General Practice and BJGP Open are bringing research to clinical practice. BJGP Life is where we add the debate and opinion to help ensure everyone benefits from that research.

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