Dr. Kate Barrett
Tell me about yourself
I am an anaesthetic ST3 trainee living in south west London. I went to Oxford medical school and have completed my general foundation training and core anaesthetic training in south west London. I am nearing the end of maternity leave for my first baby, Oscar, who is now 10 months old. I have a very supportive husband, who works in the telecommunications industry.
My husband and I are both very keen on exercise, the outdoors and travelling. Our ideal weekend involves the local park run followed by lunch and a cycle. We have just bought a bike seat for Oscar so we can now do our cycles as a family!
What year in training were you when you got pregnant?
I found out I was pregnant in the final year of my core training. In the UK, we do 2 years of general foundation training after medical school and then our anaesthetic training consists of 2 years of core training and 5 years of specialty training as an anaesthetic registrar, before becoming a consultant (attending).
The timing wasn’t ideal for me, but I don’t think there is ever a perfect time to get pregnant. I was about to apply and interview for a specialty training number. I interviewed in my early pregnancy, in the midst of first trimester morning sickness, and I didn’t get the job I wanted. I interviewed again later on in the year (this time heavily pregnant) and secured a job as a registrar in north west London.
How is the maternity leave set up for you?
Our maternity leave entitlement in the UK is 52 weeks. This can start at any time after your 29th week of pregnancy. The amount of maternity pay you get depends on how long you have worked for the NHS (national health service).
If you have continuous employment with the NHS for over 1 year, as I did, then you are entitled to NHS maternity pay which includes:
• 8 weeks of full pay
• 18 weeks of half pay
• 13 weeks of statutory maternity pay (SMP) paid by the government (£148.68 per week)
• 13 weeks of unpaid maternity leave
If you have less than 1 year continuous employment with the NHS but over 26 weeks then you get statutory maternity pay paid by the government which includes:
• 90% of salary for 6 weeks
• 33 weeks of SMP
• 13 weeks of unpaid maternity leave
You can also add on your annual leave and bank holiday entitlement which is paid at full pay.
Paternity leave comprises 2 weeks leave at full pay starting the day after your baby is born. We do have the option to do shared parental leave now too where the 52 weeks can be divided between mother and father to allow both to have some time off.
When are you going back to work and how will you fit childcare around work?
I am returning to work at the beginning of November after 13 months off. My current plan is to return to work part time, at 60% of a full time rotation. My working pattern will likely be either working 3 normal days a week or a combination of 1 on call day/night and 1 normal day or 2 on call days/nights.
As for childcare, Oscar has started settling in to a local nursery. He will go there 2 days a week and then be looked after by his grandparents 1 day a week. Thankfully they live very close to us! The main difficulty we will have is around nursery drop-offs and pick-ups. I start work at 7:45am and finish at 17:45 and my job is an hours commute away from the nursery. The nursery day starts at 8am and ends at 6pm. So, my husband will have to do both drop-off and pick-ups the days I am at work. Luckily his job is a lot more flexible than mine, and he can make up the extra time in the evenings if needed.
I have learned many things on maternity leave but the main two are flexibility and patience. I have made a plan to return to work that I think will suit me and my little one, but I am prepared to alter it as life/work/family changes. I think it is important to understand that changing the plan is not failing, but adapting to make life better. By working part time now, it will take me longer to become a consultant and I will have to be patient. The extra time I could spend working now, would mean missing out on Oscar’s early years; a sacrifice I’m not willing to take.
What advice would you give residents (both female and male) who are thinking of starting a family during training?
Make peace with the idea that there is never a ‘perfect’ time to have a baby. Medicine/Anesthesia is a vocation and lifelong job, which will be there when you get back from maternity/paternity leave. If you want a family, you will make things work for you.
Listen to what advice others have to offer you but don’t take it as gospel. When it comes to having a baby and raising children, everyone loves to impart their opinions on what’s best, which is always well intended. Make sure you use what works for you and your family and be prepared to use a lot of trial and error for the rest. Every family and baby is different.
Most importantly, once you have made your decision, embrace it. Try not to compare yourself with your colleagues/peers as you will now be at different stages of your career. Don’t underestimate what you will learn and how you will develop as a person when you become a mother or a father. It is an amazing and steep learning curve for both you and your baby and one I wouldn’t change for the world.