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Combining Parenthood with a Surgical Career

Many women surgeons have successfully combined being a parent with a rewarding surgical career. Read on for general guidance about working during pregnancy and maternity leave. You can also download our pregnancy and maternity leaflet for additional information.  

Pregnancy

There are pros and cons to starting a family at every stage of your career; you must decide what will work best for you. It is easier to plan your return to work if you are in a permanent job, i.e. consultant, specialty doctor or associate specialist, or in a long rotation e.g. ST3 onwards with a National Training Number (NTN).  If you have a NTN, your date for acquiring a Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT) moves forward by every week that you are on leave after the first three months.

At earlier career stages, it will be more difficult to cope with frequent job changes, busy shifts and job applications if you are also dealing with the demands of a baby. It is worth remembering that you are only allowed four weeks out of a FY1 or FY2 year before you have to repeat some or all of the year.

Some couples decide to wait until they are settled in consultant posts, but surgical training is long and fertility reduces with age. After age 35, the success rate for IVF declines rapidly and some regions have age-limits for NHS funding. IVF requires a series of hormonal injections and scans which may require time off work. 

Parental leave and rights

Whatever time you choose to have children, your parental scheme will depend on where you work. The earliest you can commence parental leave is the 11th week before the baby is due, i.e. 29 weeks into your pregnancy.

For more detailed information, please see our Pregnancy and Maternity leaflet.

As of April 2015, you may apply for shared parental leave, allowing you and your partner to share leave. More information about this is available from the gov.uk website.  

NHS parental leave

All pregnant employees, regardless of their length of service in the NHS or hours of work, are entitled to 52 weeks parental leave. 

If you have 12 months’ continuous NHS service at 11 weeks before the baby is due, you should receive 8 weeks full-pay, then 18 weeks half-pay, then your post is held open for another 26 weeks. 'Full-pay' and 'half-pay' includes banding and London weighting.

If you have less than 12 months’ continuous NHS service, you may only get statutory maternity allowance (currently £139.58/week).  

Find out more about NHS maternity leave and pay. 

Parental leave outside the NHS

If you become pregnant while working outside the NHS, for example - during research which is not NHS-funded - your leave will depend on the policies of the organisation you are working in. While some universities have reciprocal contracts with the NHS you should seek advice about your individual circumstances. You should ensure you are aware of your statutory rights, as well as the policies of your employer.

Returning to work

Within the limitations of the law and your employers’ policies, it is your decision how much leave you take and when you return to work. If you are on a rotation, you can choose to return to the same job, or the next one.

Read more information on returning to work. 

Maternity rights

The Health and Safety rights of pregnancy also apply to someone who is breastfeeding or has given birth within the last 12 months. A risk assessment should be done, and working patterns changed if a risk is found.

Useful career resources 

  • Medical Women’s Federation: the largest body of female doctors in the UK provides a range of support and advice for women in all specialties
  • The BMA: provides information on terms and conditions, contracts and employment
  • Doctors.net: a series of discussion forums for colleagues to discuss a range of topics

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