“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