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‘So when are you going to pop out some sprogs?’

I’m only 21 and having children is the last thing on my priority list. But lately, I’ve been forced to think about this issue more than I would really like to.

As a woman who is keen to go to medical school when I finish my Biochemistry degree at Oxford, I would rather concentrate on my studies and career goals. But the new Junior Doctors contract is seriously messing with my future plans to settle down and have some sprogs.

The fact is that around a third of doctors marry doctors – maybe it is something to do with the black humour and the penchant for curry takeouts. But Jeremy Hunt’s plans to make ‘normal’ working hours from 7am to 10pm (instead of 7am to 7pm as now) throughout the week including Saturday and Sundays has just put paid to my childcare options. Quite simply, if I end up married to a medic, one of us is going to have to give up to look after the children during the antisocial hours when the crèches are closed and even granny won’t volunteer. And perhaps I should factor that into my choices right now and avoid going down the junior doctor route entirely?

This contract even penalises women who take time off on maternity leave by freezing their pay progression. So I’ll be behind my colleagues in terms of income when I return from weaning the little ‘uns. So much for flexible working.

And staying on the theme of the new contract, it isn’t looking too good for my plans to take some time out for academic research. But Jeremy Hunt wants this to be seen as ‘time out’ in pay scale terms – in other words, my pay will be frozen and I’ll be playing catch-up with my colleagues when I return to the sharp end of medicine. My first discipline is biochemistry and I would like to be able to have the option to take time out to do a PhD and continue to contribute to the incredibly fast-paced science that biochemistry is. However, will this be possible if my pay is not increasing as I gain knowledge and experience?

Statistics from the BMA show that 54 per cent of doctors will be penalised for taking time out and although there will the introduction of flexible pay premia, it is unlikely to result in the same benefits as the current system. The percentage of female senior clinical professors varies between 11 per cent and 15 per cent and in my view it seems unlikely that this will change. I personally find it difficult to comprehend the idea taking time out to do academic research and taking time out to have a baby and therefore remaining on the same level of pay for many more years than were I to do neither.

So I’m definitely a bit conflicted these days. I have loved working in the lab during my master’s project and would find it exciting to be able to undertake PhD. Can I afford to do it? Can I afford to do it and have children? And what about spending time with my future family?

It’s already a poor show when it comes to the numbers of female consultants. Just a third are women. But how is this new contract going to encourage women like me to go to become senior medics?

Olivia Bracken
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