The life and times of two paediatricians - an interview

Serena Haywood is a Developmental Paediatrician, Medical Examiner, BMA Doctor Supporter, GMC Associate Assessor, Guardian of Safe Working Hours and playwright, and is married to Simon Chapman who is an Acute Paediatrician specialising in eating disorders, diabetes and endocrinology.

They have two teenage boys, two rescue chickens and a retired greyhound. Serena works LTFT (less than full time) and Simon used to.

Coffee in hand on their sofa, Serena interviews Simon. What inspires them as paediatricians?
Simon and Serena

Serena: The boys still call us "mummydaddy err daddymummy!" when they want something. We’re a sort of unholy parental amalgam.

Simon: It was still the best thing I did, going LTFT when I was a second-year registrar and the boys were little.  Me and Martin were the only male job share partnership at the time.

Serena: Pioneers. But it meant we could balance job and life in their early years.

Simon: Well, I didn’t want that time slipping away. But it wasn’t always easy - the child minders, then the school run… We had a few late fines.

Serena: And doing the commute when pregnant with a pushchair was a challenge.

Simon: But what was good for my career was being able to be flexible. It was very hard for the deanery often to find job share slots for people so I just filled whatever slot was going and ended up doing a whole load of really cool jobs I probably would never have got to do because I filled the other half of somebody else’s slot. I have some really nice friends as a result.

Serena: Yes, you are really annoyingly well known. When I introduce myself to new trainees, I'll wait until the end of the teaching session to say that you're my husband, and then all the trainees will go "oh, you’re Simon's wife!" You've worked with everybody because your training was just that little bit longer.

Every trainee you meet, every colleague you chat to, every good or bad decision you make, it leads you to where you are now.

Serena

Simon: This year is special because I'm exactly the same length being a consultant as I was as a trainee.

Serena: I've been a consultant there since 2004, the year after Tom was born.

Simon: You’re so old.

Serena: September 2003 - we moved house twice, got married and had a baby. 

Simon: And I got my registrar number.

Serena: And I was technically unemployed for six months. But then when I went back it was LTFT and that’s how I’ve stayed so I can do writing on Fridays.

Simon: "Do writing"

Serena: *stares*

Serena: OK, I used to do a lot of household things so we could go out on the weekends, but now the boys are teenagers they’re more self-sufficient.

Simon: And I’ve managed to keep that flexibility doing things I never thought I’d do such as specialising in eating disorders. And computer programming.

Serena: That's really important I think. Everything I’ve done in paeds has informed the next bit. Tidying this weekend I found that Polaroid of me doing neonatal retrievals in Melbourne in 1998. And although I can’t tell you exactly how, that has influenced what I do now in developmental. Every trainee you meet, every colleague you chat to, every good or bad decision you make, it leads you to where you are now. 

What was good for my career was being able to be flexible… I just filled whatever slot was going and ended up doing a whole load of really cool jobs I probably would never have got to do...

Simon

Simon: When I started medicine, I had this very clear idea that I’d be saving lives in scrubs with my stethoscope around my neck. And then when I actually started work and had to actually wear scrubs I totally hated it. I slowly discovered that the ‘hero’ thing was not for me actually - chronic illness is where it's at. Oh, there are plenty of heroes just in my corridor alone at work who are totally amazing; they can pass a scope between the optic nerve and the carotid artery before breakfast. And there needs to be room for them, but I’ve come to discover over the years I’m interested in the long-term conditions. I like being in clinic with my tweed jacket and leather elbow patches…

Serena: ..cardigan…

Simon: …cardigan. I’m gutted I can no longer stroke my beard as I had to lose it for masks with PPE. But I stroke my theoretical beard...

Serena: And I twiddle my theoretical beads in developmental clinic. Because of my personal journey I’m interested in wellbeing of trainees and other consultants so that is much of my week. And being a playwright, I’m deeply fascinated in the stories that patients tell. I'm in paediatrics because it isn't necessarily what we do, it's how we help people get to where they need to be. And a lot of the time that's looking at things holistically and reframing things for people. I suppose that’s what a developmental diagnosis is in a nutshell. 

Simon: I’ve missed the families during COVID.

Serena: I really miss talking about superheroes and computer games I don’t understand. I love asking 6-year-olds what career they want. Sometimes they say they want to be a gamer or a fairy or a giraffe and I try to help them get there. My very favourite thing is saying goodbye to the teenagers off to college, having a little bit of a secret cry and say I remember you when you were on the verge of all sorts of disasters, then they grunt, shrug, duck under the doorway and get on with the rest of their lives.

Simon: Our boys are almost that big now. I can cycle to work, do my coding.

Serena: ..always coding…

Simon: I’m working on the College’s online growth charts now.

Serena: And I’m looking forward to resuming my med-tech ADHD project in the autumn. It’s always changing, isn’t it? There are bits of paediatrics I’m going to admit I’m glad I don’t have to do any more.

Simon: Early training can feel like that’s all there is, volumes of work, especially during exams. But we can now go to conferences and not have to know the latest on absolutely everything anymore. That’s what all our friends are for.

Serena: We’re that old consultant couple that sneak out of lectures to have coffee and chat with old trainees who are professors now, aren’t we?

Simon: You’re calling me old?

Serena: [...]