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Flexible Careers

Less than full time (LTFT), part-time or flexible are all terms used to describe the alternative to full-time working as a consultant.  ‘Part time’ working has long been perceived as female doctors who wish to combine family life with their career. However, whilst this may be the case for some, the role of flexible working increasingly allows clinicians to have a portfolio career. This offers many opportunities as the retirement age increases and consultants look to diversify in the later stages of their career. Flexible careers allow the opportunity to pursue other interests both within and outside medicine such as roles for General Medical Council (GMC), Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), The Royal College of Ophthalmologists, university roles and work in the private sector.

There are many ways in which flexible working can operate which include:

  • Part-time: less than 10 Programmed Activities (PA)
  • Flexi-time: varying your start and finish times within agreed limits
  • Compressed hours: working your hours over fewer days i.e. working longer days
  • Annualised hours: working a set number of hours per year rather than per week. This can enable the individual to work longer days during term times and work less over school holiday periods.
  • Structured time off in lieu: working longer hours at busy times and taking time off at less busy times
  • Job-sharing: the full -time duties are shared between two individuals (could be part-day, part- week or part- year). The salary and benefits are divided between them according to the amount of time they each work

Whilst jobs may be advertised as full time, the law provides employees with parental or carer responsibilities the statutory right to request a flexible working pattern. A response to this request has to be received within 14 weeks. An established full time consultant can also request the right to discuss flexible working arrangements.

When considering flexible working it is important to acknowledge:

  • The impact on the service and colleagues.
  • The personal financial implications of flexible working as it will  affect pension contributions.

Some personal perspectives:

There are a number of consultants who work flexibly for a number of reasons, both men and women. They have kindly given permission to share details of how flexible careers can work:

Annualised contract

A working mother who has an annualised contract as a consultant. She is contracted for 8 PA but works 9 PA during term time and the additional hours accrued are taken over the school holidays allowing 3 day working over school holidays.

One male colleague who is contracted to 8 PAs but has offered additional sessions to the trust taking them up to 10PA. This allows them the flexibility to reduce sessions when needed giving 3 months notice.

Part time

“Took an 18 month career break after CCT and a short research fellowship. I returned as a part time locum (60% with no on call). I subsequently got a substantive post at 70% with equally shared on call responsibility. This further increased to 8 PA as the children went to school with a flexible timetable with a shorter week in school holidays balanced with slightly higher workload in term time to make up 80%. This included a period as clinical director at the same rate. However a review of my job plan has shown I was working well over 80% and my job plan has been readjusted now that I have finished in this role”

Portfolio career

One male consultant has a portfolio career: “Part time NHS hospital work, part time NHS work with Newmedica and part time CESP partnership work.  This is routine in some other countries like Australia, where a sessional contribution to the big teaching unit is common. I’d love to see it more talked of here in the UK and more normal”.

The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges has a flexible careers committee which looks at the impact of flexible working both for the individual and the profession. It works across specialities and looks to share good practice and is keen to develop the idea of a portfolio career.