Why I chose PEM and how this impacts on work life balance

David James tells us how he balances an acute specialty with a healthy work life balance - and how a bit of cycling helps, too!

I was drawn to Paediatric Emergency Medicine (PEM) from my early registrar years. I loved the buzz of the Emergency Department atmosphere, the teamwork and the variety. I have not been disappointed. I love my team and enjoy coming to work, and for that I feel truly blessed. But that does not mean that it is always easy, and it can definitely be a struggle to maintain a healthy ‘work life balance’.

However, I am now two and a half years into my consultant career and have learned a huge amount about how to try to balance it as well as I can. Going from a registrar to being a consultant, the first thing you realise is how much of the job is not the clinical work. It is management, training.... and just lots and lots of ‘stuff’. This can quickly become overwhelming and the first instinct is just to try and speed up and do more. This is often counterproductive.

It is a privilege to care for other people’s children in often their most worrying times, and it is important to never forget that

One of the best things for me about PEM is that it is shift based. I can come in, work hard for eight hours, see a variety of interesting (and some not so interesting) patients and leave – handing them over to someone else. This is not true in a lot of specialties but it works really well for me. It means I can segregate my life into clinical work, non-clinical work and not work (my favourite bit).

I have always taken on extra things and have two additional PAs (professional activities) for a regional role and the Trust College Tutor. However, on a 12 PA contract I still ensure that I have half a day off in the week every week. This allows me to get out on my bike or spend time with family. I find cycling is my saviour and keeps me sane (most of the time). There is nothing better than whizzing along a country lane, wind in your hair (or not, for those who know what I look like). It is always improved with a stop for good coffee somewhere along the way.

I speak regularly with my colleagues and we are a tight team who look after one another

I fully understand why so many of my colleagues become burnt out and why we sometimes have issues with retention in paediatrics. I am not immune to this and despite my general positive outlook have had really stressful times in the first few years of being a consultant. I have availed of support within my Trust and now have a coach which has been incredibly helpful. I also speak regularly with my colleagues and we are a tight team who look after one another. The thing that I find causes me the most angst is when I don’t feel I have the ability to influence a situation. For that reason I have actually found that saying ‘yes’ to extended roles (within reason) has actually helped me to feel somewhat in control of my destiny and of our service - and this is really useful.

I do feel genuinely lucky to do the job I do. It is a privilege to care for other people’s children in often their most worrying times, and it is important to never forget that. Yes, the hours can be long and the finishes can be late. But if you love what you do and you learn what you need to do to keep you balanced, then it is the best job in the world.