Is it possible to ‘Have it all’? by Josie O’Heney

Since September 2021 I have been working as a National Medical Director’s clinical fellow. This fellowship has been enlightening about what happens on ‘the other side’, with a break from clinical work and instead spending my days on teams, zoom and emails. One of the aims of the scheme is to expose trainee doctors to leadership, both through experience of running projects, and through seeing senior clinical leadership in action, with the hope that we develop the skills to be the clinical leaders of the future. As part of this we have regular insight sessions, often hearing about the journeys that senior clinicians have taken into leadership. At a recent session we heard from yet another middle aged man… His journey was similar to others – very impressive and sounded all consuming. I posed a question after he mentioned the importance of family – ‘you talk about the importance of friends and family… do you think it’s possible for both parents to be in roles like this or do you have a partner providing a lot of the support at home?’ and unfortunately got the answer that I was expecting – that he was able to achieve all of this because of the support of his wife and that in short he didn’t think it was possible for both parents to be in senior leadership roles.

As a mother of 3 and with a husband that works ‘in the city’ I left the session feeling very despondent. I don’t want to live my professional life hiding the fact that I’m a parent. I want to occasionally manage to attend the school assembly or pick my kids up from school, but I also love my job and want to embrace opportunities that arise – and I don’t think my gender should impact this. In contrast I also want my husband to be able to do the same things for our children, and feel that he can say he needs to leave early or arrive late sometimes as he has family commitments – setting a great example to his team, but not being lauded as a hero for it – this just needs to be normal.

After the insight session I tweeted asking if anyone with 2 parents in senior leadership roles has made it work… that afternoon, Celia Ingham-Clark, an inspirational senior female medical leader asked me to stay at the end of a meeting and spoke to me about her experiences. She described how she wasn’t always been able to take opportunities that presented themselves, but ultimately she has balanced family life with a very successful career. The power of her reaching out was incredible for me – these are the voices that we need to amplify to increase female representation at senior levels. I do believe that things are improving, for example LTFT working is becoming more common and accepted as described in Fathima’s blog, and to succeed mothers of my generation won’t need to make the same sacrifices as those in the generation above us, but we must keep pushing the status quo… and seeing is believing, so let’s elevate the voices of those that have succeeded ‘despite’ having a family! To Celia, I want to again say thank you, and to other mothers I’d like to encourage you to both seek out mentors and mentees.

To do my part, I am still a ‘junior’ doctor at the age of 40, but with a supportive partner who is a genuine co-parent, I am balancing 3 young children, a full-time leadership fellowship, and will soon CCT as an obstetrician. I would also like to state though that I am doing this because it is what I want – sometimes what you want changes when you have a family and that’s ok too. There isn’t a one size fits all, but the important thing is that we talk about the challenges of balancing family life, and also that it is (maybe) possible sometimes to ‘have it all’.

Dr Josie O’Heney

Dr Josie O’Heney is an Obstetrics and Gynaecology trainee in North-East London. She is currently a National Medical Director’s Clinical Fellow at Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership (HQIP).

Josie is a passionate obstetrician with a special interest in obstetric medicine. Through her clinical practice she has sadly seen inequality in care and outcomes, and applied to the leadership scheme to gain understanding and experience that will empower her to influence positive change for women on a larger scale than her individual practice. At HQIP she is working with the National Clinical Audit and Patient Outcomes Programme (NCAPOP) team, liaising closely with NHSEI in areas that include national recommendations from reports, health inequalities, and the maternity programme. In addition to her role at HQIP Josie is also working with the National Guideline Alliance on the NICE guideline update to intrapartum care for healthy women and babies.

Declaration of interests 

I confirm that I have read and understood the BMJ Group policy on declarations of interests and have no conflicts of interest (other than Oliver, Harry and Finn).

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