Nurses, doctors, pharmacists, opticians, radiographers etc are seen as people in the 'caring profession' - healthcare providers who make a difference and save lives everyday. Many have made great sacrifices to be in their profession, while others have chosen their careers as a safe option in today's world of massive unemployment. Some are still making sacrifices to reach greater heights in their careers, while others remain in their profession because they feel it would be a waste of time and money invested if they leave at this stage. Patients can be grateful, disappointed, angry, rude, but most are indifferent to healthcare staff as long as they get an acceptable level of care and professionalism.
While professionals pride themselves in providing good medical care for patients, making improvements to healthcare services and sometimes even contributing to better public health, how do these same professionals rank when it comes to the care given to those closest to them? Yes, the wives, mothers, sisters and daughters often deserted at home for a weekend shift. I mean the husbands, brothers, boyfriends, fathers and sons that hardly ever get their full attention. The medical profession has been accommodating in providing 'Less Than Full Time' postgraduate training options for doctors, but in reality, how does it feel to be a “part-time doctor”? What are the real consequences of choosing family over full time work?
As expected, some careers and specialties are better than others in providing working hours that suit family life. It can be argued that professionals should choose specialties or jobs that suit their family life, instead of complaining about shift patterns and rotas. On the other hand, should people be expected to choose specialties they do not like just because they want to have a social life too? People who do not have children might even feel that enough is already being done to accommodate family life for colleagues who are parents, especially if they themselves have sacrificed the option of having children in order to advance their careers. Indeed, it may seem a sensible option, especially as a doctor, to leave childbearing until specialty training is complete, to avoid childcare issues and career gaps, but this option is not for everyone.
Working in healthcare professions is a privilege and requires commitment, but does it mean that professionals' families should continue to pay the price until Daddy and/or Mummy retire? There was an interesting article in the British Medical Journal about the rate of divorce among doctors. The reactions to this topic range from a sad acceptance of life as people who are destined to have little time for their families, to a strong rebellion that leads committed professionals in full time training/jobs to consider staff grade and locuming positions as a way to take back control of their time. Even though the latter options may be stigmatised in some professions, this is the price some are willing to pay to build a good relationship with their families before it is too late.
Family life seems to be dwindling because professionals are spending most of their waking hours at work, becoming great at what they do and strangers to their own family. When they are not working, they are preparing something for work or feeling stressed out. The work-life balance has been reduced to meaning an occasional day out with family/friends away from hospital, paperwork and journals, expensive holidays once or twice a year and having 1000 friends on Facebook who never get a phone call. The most concerning part of it is that children grow up feeling that the little attention they get from Mum and Dad is normal and they end up with all sorts of psychological reactions and coping strategies. Children of many professionals are now being brought up by nurseries, childminders and babysitters. Some spend most of their time with grandparents and close relatives or friends, who one would hope have the same values as the parents to pass on to the children. Fortunately, or unfortunately, some spouses willingly sacrifice their own careers to stay at home with the kids because their professional spouse works all hours.
It is very unlikely that a patient coming into hospital at 8pm will even spare a moment to think, 'Who is looking after your children while you are here, doctor?'. Why should they? It is the responsibility of the parent to care about that. Thankfully, we have babysitting agencies, nannies, au pairs and childminders who can care for children outside normal office hours, when nurseries are closed. Some professionals are blessed to have spouses and relatives that can help, but what about the professionals themselves? Are they missing out on great and memorable years? No amount of money can compensate for that.
Are professionals and business people driving miles to work to find the satisfaction they can find at home if they put more effort into their relationships? Is this really the life they want or do they feel trapped in a profession, company or shift pattern they hate? Can people not be professionals while their children are in school, and relaxed parents at home when they are not? That is just wishful thinking, of course! We need people 24 hours a day in the emergency department, wards and laboratories. Not to mention the police officers, firemen, journalists and people of other professions who work round the clock to keep our country safe and strong. Business must go on. So next time you see someone working after 5pm, please show some appreciation, because they have probably left a beautiful family at home to come out and serve you.