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'Mothers in pharmacy shouldn’t feel guilty for not working full-time'

“I felt like I had to justify myself when I was asked why I work part-time"

Female pharmacists with children should not feel guilty for working part-time so they can balance kids and a career, says Nadira Callachand

“Why do you work part-time?” was the question from my fellow pharmacist. I’ve been working part-time for the last five years, since my first child was born, but I’ve never been asked “why” before.

I’ve often chatted to other pharmacists about my work but I hadn’t really considered the part-time opportunities in pharmacy when I chose this career. At the time, planning a family was most definitely not on my radar.

I work in Ireland, where there is a shortage of pharmacists, so locum work is easy to find. I have endless options – weekends, evenings and half-days – that I work around my kids’ lives and my husband’s work schedule. It’s great to spend time with my kids while they’re small and I get to keep up my professional skills. So, what was it about this question that really threw me?

Well, I had never been asked “why” by another pharmacist. Perhaps it was her tone, but I felt like I had to justify myself. I had been attending a training session for a project I’m currently working on. Almost everyone in the room was more qualified than me and I was already feeling a bit daunted by the number of people with PhDs at the table. Then I was asked that question, and imposter syndrome kicked in.

Wikipedia kindly points out that imposter syndrome is “a psychological pattern in which one doubts one's accomplishments and has a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a fraud”. In my response to the pharmacist I scrambled around, stuttering that my boys were three and five years old and that I didn’t have childcare.

I wondered whether the ages of three and five were young enough to justify my two-day week? Perhaps it would have sounded better if they were only one and three? I would be busier then and more sleep deprived. In reality, I could find childcare if I wanted, but I’ve chosen to spend the majority of my time with my children for now. I was imagining that she thought I was lazy and not dedicated to the profession. Has juggling work and family left me feeling devalued?

Working a couple of days a week has given me great flexibility and allowed me time with my family that I cherish. But let’s be honest, it’s left me on the back foot trying to keep up with all things pharmacy. I am constantly worried that gaps are appearing in my clinical knowledge, so I look up information more than ever before. New drugs, devices and pharmacy administration procedures can be tricky to keep up with when you’re not submerged in the dispensary for a full 45-hour week.

Having spent so long building a career, not focusing on it completely and giving it my all makes me feels like I’m letting an old friend down. I am in awe of mothers who can parent and work full-time, excelling at their careers and making great contributions to the pharmacy profession. How can I manage only a few days? I feel like a guilty mum when I’m working, and a guilty pharmacist when I’m with my family.

A common topic of discussion is that 21st century women try to have it all: an adorable family, a progressing career, a pristine house, a slim figure and shellac nails. But I think it’s becoming more acceptable to say “no” to this impossible bundle and admit that we just don’t have the time or energy to give 100% to everything.

While I may be able to keep doing a bit of everything, I have to accept that priorities change overtime.  As my boys get bigger and need me less, I’ll be ready to step back into full-time pharmacy work and concentrate on something other than Lego and the PAW Patrol TV series. It's being confident to say this to my colleagues when I’m asked “why” that is the tricky bit.

Nadira Callachand is a pharmacist and career leadership coach based in Dublin


Sabina Bauluck, Community pharmacist

Do not feel guilty about working part-time. I have been working part-time for 6 years and I have felt that both myself and my children have benefited. If I was working full time I would be constantly worrying and thinking about my children.

Pharmacy is not understanding to family life at all , most higher positions are not cooperative at all. I have had replies back from job applications stating that they would like me and my skilks but the minute I state that I wish to work part time their interests suddenly change! Its a sad but true situation. I'd have more happiness at home where they value you for who you are.

Shahir Afser, Community pharmacist

Missed a lot of my sons first year and a half doing 55+ hours a week as a reluctantly inflexible manager. Scaling back, now looking after him a lot more has been infinitely more gratifying and rewarding than any job could ever offer. The notion of anyone asking "why" (even to a father) seems slightly unfathomable...

Jenny Etches, Community pharmacist

I started working part time after having children and have never gone back full time to a job that was stressful and very inflexible around children's illness and school holidays. Now approaching retirement I'm glad I was available for my children particularly through the difficult teenage years. Stressed out in a tiny dispensary was never as attractive as being a parent. And my husband worked 3/4 time and did school runs etc. We might have been not well off financially but I never regret our decision. 

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

You made the right choice. I made the wrong one. Ever seen Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? It's like that bit where the baddie picks the wrong grail and turns into exactly what I feel like.

Ian Scott, Primary care pharmacist

Very dissapointed at the lack of mention of fathers wishing to work part-time to support child care duties.  Something that employers (including the NHS) are simply not interested .

Industry Pharmacist, Head/Senior Manager

Go to any family court and see how father's are viewed to get your answer.

mark straughton, Pharmaceutical Adviser

There's 2 ways to look at this. Communiy pharmacy is very flexible in allowing you to do 1/2/3/4 full days as part time. Also you can work just pm shifts or even just to work on a saturday/sunday if that suits you work/life balance. On the other hand the total inflexibity comes when you need time off on short notice and having to arrange locum cover. Imagine needing the next day covered because of a family emergency during the summer? trying to get cover is horrendous. You can't even slip away early for a dentist appointment like most other jobs can do.

Industry Pharmacist, Head/Senior Manager

Sadly society doesn't think the same for fathers. We are expected to work all the time and miss out on our children's lives. We don't live in an equal society.

julie vettasseri, Locum pharmacist

My 'children' are now 24 and 18 and I have worked part time all their lives and I think they have benefitted from this ..we shouldn't feel guilty at wanting to spend time with our children as if we didnt we would never get those years back or have the relationships that develop over those years.i always felt proud to say I couldn't work full time as I had children as they are the most important thing to me .stick to your guns whatever you want to do its your life and no one should try to tell you how to live it

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

Thing is, when I was a kid, it was considered shameful if both parents (and yes, in the sexist 70's it was mums who were expected to stay home) were working. There will be a certain generation for which the term 'latchkey kid' will resonate. How times have changed.

Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

Make the most of the time with your family - before you know it, it will be over and then you'll regret not spending more time than you did with them. I know I have - my daughter is nearly 14 and I have spent those 14 years doing fifty-odd hours a week just to keep our heads above water. I've come to realise that there are far more important things in life than the nice house and decent car when you understand the sacrifices you have made to keep them. I haven't been there nearly enough for my daughter, I feel she barely knows me and I bitterly regret this. Don't make the same mistakes I have made and allow pharmacy to chew you up and spit you out. Feel NO guilt at all for being with your family. They are more important than anything else, certainly more important than pharmacy. Enjoy being with your kids NOW!! To me it looks like you are an excellent parent who is managing the work/life balance properly so ignore the critics who are probably only trying to justify their own bad choices, feel no guilt and make the most of things now!

Katie O'Donnell, Community pharmacist

Yes!!! It's even worse when you have  a management position. Having to justify why I only do 34 hours (as opposed to the 44 hours I did before children) Community pharmacy has got to be one of the most inflexible careers when it comes to working patterns. You often have no choice other than to work long shifts as an RP. Definitely very difficult to balance work and family.

Ruth Hulton, Community pharmacist

Agreed! I actually think we give much more than 75% of the effort and energy (I do 32 hours usually). I know that I can get the same amount effectively done in 6 hours compared to 8 or 9 but obviously as an RP having to be on the premises until 6pm+ is very difficult with small children. I think we often give more because we feel we have to prove and justify ourselves.

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