Return to Work Advice

Print Email

Returning to work after a period of maternity leave or after a career break can at first appear daunting. Both the CMO and Royal College of Physicians' reports (2009) on Women in Medicine have recommended a more formal approach to the reacquisition of clinical skills after a career break (for example 'back to work' or 'taster sessions', shadowing another doctor). Finding suitable childcare may prove challenging, and enhancing the role of Childcare Coordinators with better internet resources would be helpful. We hope that this web-page will provide you with some useful information for achieving this goal.

Returning to work after maternity leave

Things to consider:

  1. How long to remain on Maternity Leave (i.e. whether or not to take the full 52 weeks + accrued holiday)

  2. Whether to return to work full time or part-time. The only way of training part-time is on a less than full Time (LTFT) training scheme (see LTFTT tab). Consultants, SAS doctors or GP Principals wishing to return part-time would need to negotiate their contracts with the hospital Trust or GP practice.

From the Dept of Health Amendment No 115 Advance Letter (GC) 1/2003:
"If at the end of maternity leave the employee wishes to return to work on different hours the NHS employer has a duty to facilitate this wherever possible, with the employee returning to work on different hours in the same job. If this is not possible the employer must provide written, objectively justifiable reasons for this and the employee should return to the same grade and work of a similar nature and status to that which they held prior to their maternity absence.

If it is agreed that the employee will return to work on a flexible basis, including changed or reduced hours, for an agreed temporary period this will not affect the employee's right to return to her job under the original contract at the end of the agreed period."If you are in a training post you must inform the Training Programme Director (TPD) and Deanery of your plans to return to work as well as telling your employer.By law you must give your employer 8 weeks notice of your plan to return to work although it is professional to give more whenever possible. If you decide to postpone your return to work you must give 8 weeks notice before the original earlier date."

Returning to work after a career break/ Relocation

Returning to work after a career break is often difficult. However, this will not always be the case and it can depend very much on individual circumstances. E.g. some specialties/healthcare settings will be easier to return to than others.

Tips for returning to work after a career break / relocation include:

  • General Practice returner schemes (funded) are available in some areas of the country.

  • Arrange a Clinical Attachment. This usually involves shadowing a doctor within a department for 2-4 weeks but it is unpaid. A Clinical Attachment can be a useful way of refreshing your clinical knowledge and can help to boost your self-confidence. It is also a way of making contacts within a department.

  • Ask permission to attend teaching sessions within a chosen department or GP practice.

  • Ask to attend Postgraduate Teaching sessions and also ask for your name put on an e-mail contact list regarding these meetings.

  • Contact the Departmental Lead Clinician/Consultant/GP partner and make him/her aware of your situation.

  • If appropriate, contact trust child-care coordinator (see childcare tab) to find out about local childcare availability. It's good to have looked into this well ahead.

  • Contact the Deanery Career Lead for your specialty. They should be able to let you know what facilities are available locally (see Deanery tab).

  • Contact Consultants/ GP Principals for whom you have previously worked. They may be able to offer you advice &/or references.

  • If possible net-work socially with local doctors and healthcare providers.

  • Check BMJ weekly for any suitable job vacancies.

  • Depending on your experience you may wish to apply for a training post.

  • REMEMBER: You must be proactive.

  • Important qualities: Patience and perseverance!

MWF member, Dr Susan Hamilton's experiences of returning to work - It makes inspirational reading!

Following the birth of my first child, I returned to a part time staff grade post in Psychiatry for one year. My husband was subsequently relocated and, planning another child, I decided not to seek a job in our new area. I felt it was the right thing to do for our family. I did worry, however, about how I was going to return to medicine, not least due to the lack of acceptable childcare in our rural location. In addition, having relocated, I had no contacts in our local mental healthcare trust.

Not being one to sit still, I joined the committee of our local pre-school, and became a school governor, both roles providing generic management skills. When my second daughter was two, someone suggested to me that I apply to be an associate University Lecturer. This provided a few hours of very flexible and interesting work. Even more importantly, from a professional point of view, it was motivation to increase my subject knowledge base and develop teaching and IT experience. It also gave me renewed professional confidence. 

When my youngest child started school the childcare difficulties became easier to resolve. So I started to explore the possibilities of returning to medicine. To my disappointment, the old NHS Professionals returner's scheme had been abandoned, and there was nothing very concrete in its place. So, I summoned up my new found confidence and approached the local clinical tutor in Psychiatry, and was reassured to find out that there was a shortage of psychiatrists, and a return was not beyond the realm of possibilities. He suggested I attend the local academic programme. I did, and managed to make a few contacts. The next step was to try to sit in on some clinics, to remind myself what it was all about. However, in order to do this, I had to get an honorary contract. I managed to contact my old clinical supervisors. Even though I had not seen them for up to 10 years, they had remembered me and were happy to provide references.

I finally managed to observe some clinics in adult and child/ adolescent psychiatry. My enthusiasm must have impressed the local team. It transpired there was a temporary gap in service provision, and before too long I was offered a part time SAS locum post, more than seven years after my last job. What is more, the managers were more than happy to let me choose my hours to fit around childcare and my University post.

It sounds as though the return was ultimately simple. In practice, it involved many phone calls and frustrating bureaucracy. I felt I was battling against a system in which women just did not take time out for families. It took confidence, patience, and above all, lots of sheer determination. But it is possible. At the time of writing, there is uncertainty about the length of time my funding will last. However, I have regained professional experience and am establishing a name for myself within the Trust and specialty.

Medical Women's Federation
Tavistock House North,
Tavistock Square, London,
Tel: 020 7387 7765