Dr Kerrie Thackray, mum of five who returned to medicine to help with the pandemic at CUH, has been named as a winner of the 2022 Timewise Power List.
Kerrie is a general physician at senior specialist registrar level specialising in diabetes, endocrinology and general internal medicine.
“I’m the person you see in hospital if you don’t need a surgeon” she says.
Kerrie left her career in medicine to spend as much time with her children as possible, coming to her decision after her second child was sadly stillborn.
When the pandemic hit, she had been at home for six years with her five children.
She says: “We could see the news coming from China about how things were developing. I was acutely aware that I had very specialist and much needed skills. I received messages from the GMC saying they’d welcome old colleagues back.”
I joked that going back to work would be a relief compared to home schooling five young children, but it was a pretty terrifying prospect. I had never before gone to work with the distinct possibility of becoming seriously ill myself.
“But on the positive side, I knew I could help and wanted to help. My husband, who had really supportive bosses, asked his managers to reduce his hours to free me up - and they agreed, so I knew the children would have him though lockdown.
“I negotiated a part-time return. 48hrs a week is full-time for a doctor, I secured 29hrs a week (60%). I was initially deployed to medical wards and then neurocritical care.
"It is quite a thing, having to learn again on your feet. I had not done a ward round or looked at a chest X-ray or ECG for 10 years. I needed to catch up on new drugs and guidelines. There was a lot to revise and learn. What was great was that other doctors across the country gave up their time running webinars several times a week to support doctors returning to medicine after a break.
"I was part of a really supportive Facebook and WhatsApp group for doctors returning so we helped each other with revision resources and practical tips. I initially spent many long evenings learning how to become a doctor again.
“And I absolutely loved it. My mother will tell you I first talked about becoming a doctor at the age of three and there was never anything else I wanted to do. Yes, there were certain facts I’d forgotten. There were new drugs to learn about, there was a whole new computer system, but these things are picked up very fast by experienced staff. I was delighted to discover that being a doctor came back to me very quickly. It’s who I am."
Kerrie very quickly returned to a high level of medicine.
Colleagues praise her clinical skills and how it feels like she has never been away and particularly compliment her manner with patients and her skills of communication and compassion.
She has co-authored an article for the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, completed the first cycle of a project that aims to improve the management of diabetes in older patients during hospital admissions and completed Instructor training for the Resuscitation Council’s Advanced Life Support course.
It really did take a pandemic for this to happen. There is a well-established path for nurses and other healthcare professionals to return to work part-time, but not for doctors.
She says: “My graduate year had equal numbers of men and women studying medicine. Many of my female colleagues will want part time work due to maternity leave or children but it’s something our male colleagues increasingly see the benefit of for them too.
"Thankfully, I think the view of part-time working and part-time doctors is starting to change – though the practical reality of how hard it is to make a part-time medical career work is lagging behind. There could be more support.
“I worry for my fellow medical professionals around the country. We’ve been operating at ‘Covid pace’ for two years. Burnout is everywhere. We need a solution, fast, but I fear we won’t get that before we lose a generation of healthcare workers.
“I want to see more returns to medicine being encouraged. Coming back to work as a doctor with added life experience has had so many benefits. It rounds you out. Being that little bit older than a lot of my colleagues, I feel well equipped to have conversations with patients and relatives about their worries and concerns. I am very empathetic when giving the worst news you can hear - I have been there myself.
“Working with older people is an absolute privilege and one of the best bits of my job. Our bodies work differently when we are older. Many older people have a number of conditions and may be taking a combination of medications, leaving them feeling more vulnerable. Others may have conditions such as dementia, making it harder to convey what they need. But we never give up and strive to give the very best care at all times.”
When Covid restrictions meant that relatives weren’t able to visit, being the person to provide comfort and company has been hard, but also the greatest honour of my career. Giving someone the dignity and understanding they deserve is everything.
“My children are very supportive of Mummy going back to work – they understand I have an important job to do, and I think it’s good for them to see how we serve other people.
“I am really motivated now to complete my training and have just received an offer for my first choice post to complete my registrar training to be a consultant.
"My reduced working pattern keeps my enthusiasm and passion going. I think back to my training and how we worked 56 hour weeks and then studied for my postgraduate exams – I don’t know how I did it!
“I feel re-energised when I am at home with the children now too. It’s added an extra layer to our relationship. My partner has retained his part-time pattern. I don’t think either of us will ever return to full-time work.
“That’s not to say it is easy. I am sent the roster like everyone else and I have to find a way to make it work. For example, this week I will work all day Wednesday-Sunday in the emergency medicine clinic, and I worked nights last weekend. But the plus side is that the variety means the children and I have lots of random days together."
I am pleased to be able to stand up and say I have returned part-time and you can too. I aim to become a diabetes consultant and I have so much support from my superiors.
Kerrie spends some of her time out of work volunteering for Girlguiding.
She says: “Girlguiding has supported women for over 100 years. One in two adult women have been a member of Girlguiding at some time of their life. It is great for girls to see the career options open to them and that you don’t have to give up everything else in your life to achieve that.”
The 10th annual Power List by social enterprise Timewise profiles some of the most successful people in the UK who happen to work part-time. See the new Timewise Power List in full at timewise.co.uk.