Dr Nicola Pawley – Consultant in Intensive Care at Chesterfield Royal Hospital – gives an insight in to the challenges of returning to work after maternity leave
 
I’m in the hospital car park and there’s a real September back to school feel to the air; leaves are changing colour and there’s a blustery wind blowing. For me, it’s my first day at work after thirteen months. Although this is the second time I’ve returned after maternity leave, it’s the first I’ve returned as a consultant, and the weight of expectation seems much higher.
 
During my year away the Bawa Garba case exploded in the media, Jack Adcock died on her second day back after maternity leave, and suddenly returning to work has become topical. However, unlike my first return when I was thrown into night shifts on cardiac ITU, I’ve been granted a phased return. I have attached lists and ITU sessions, and almost six weeks before any on-calls. It somehow feels wrong that, just because I’m a consultant, I’ve been able to access a gentler reintroduction to work. Surely, this should be offered to all grades of doctor and its availability well publicised.
 
I’m feeling torn between looking forward to regaining my professional identity and all that comes with it (including drinking a hot cup of tea!), and feeling guilty that someone else will be looking after my baby and watch him take his tentative first early steps. I’ll also miss spending my days in the mum and baby world where everyone is healthy and well. It wasn’t until I stopped work to go on my first maternity leave that I realised how skewed my own world had become where illness and death were my daily norm.
 
Low staff morale in some NHS hospitals can make them depressing places to work. Time away has been very refreshing and I think everyone should have opportunity to take a break from what can be an intensely stressful environment, not just those of us who’ve had a baby. For me, it’s been a great time to reflect on what’s most important in life and also to pursue and enjoy other activities. I guess this is what is meant by a good work-life balance
 
I’m not yet sure how I will incorporate keeping up to date with our ever changing specialty, working in the hospital, and looking after two small children. I’m thankful that all my exams are done. I really applaud and admire all Trainees who manage to add studying for exams into the already fraught mix of working and bringing up their children. As I point out daily to my physician husband, off days with a toddler and baby are infinitely more wearing than a full day at work, even if that includes a long post-take ward round or dealing with recalcitrant surgeons!
 
So, it’s with a mixture of apprehension and excitement that I cross the car park and over the metaphorical threshold back into the world of work and, hopefully at some point, that hot cup of tea.
 
Dr Nicola Pawley