Work-life balance

Margaret McCartney

Up to now, doctors have issued a small but vital piece of paper, the sick note, to confirm that a patient is unfit to work. This extends beyond the seven days which an employee can self-certify first. But now the certificate, known as a Med 3, is being replaced by a system of “fit notes”, about which I have several doubts.

Instead of highlighting an illness that prevents a certain type of work, the new fit notes will point out what a patient might be able to do instead. This has been celebrated as a great advance for everyone, most notably the economy – as if people unable to work in “sick note Britain” are lounging around in the sun, drinking beer in some kind of immoral stupor.

Continue reading ‘The sick note is poorly’

By Rebecca Knight

A study by psychologists at the University of Leeds has found that people who spend a lot of time surfing the internet are more likely to show depressive symptoms.
Hmm. I spend a lot of time on the internet. I mean a lot. Some of it is productive: I pay bills, I glance through the news, I shop for groceries, and I locate sources for stories I am writing. But admittedly, a lot of it is frivolous: incessant emailing, Facebook-checking, blog-browsing, Tweet-reading, and vain, idle Google searches for whatever happens to occupy my brain space at any given moment.

By Rebecca Knight

Can something as simple as the timing of when we take a coffee break help us better remember the presentation we just attended, or retain the details of the podcast we just heard?
A study by researchers at New York University thinks it can. In an experiment focused on memory consolidation – the phase when a memory is stabilised after it is originally created – the researchers found that memories are reinforced during periods of rest while we are awake. Past studies had shown this process occurs during sleep, not when we are wide-awake but resting.
Put simply: taking a break after a meeting can actually help you retain information because your brain wants you to tune out other things, so you can tune in to what you just learned.

By Rebecca Knight

Work invades my sleep. I lie in bed thinking about editors I should email, sources I need to call, and story ideas I ought to follow up on.

To be honest, sleep has never been my strong suit. I suffered terrible insomnia as a kid and into early adulthood. I’ve tried quiet yoga, warm milk, and long, languorous bubble baths before bed. I feel relaxed and cosy as I climb under the sheets, but once my head hits the pillow, it’s all over.

Apparently, the remedy to my restlessness is simple: I should stop working. According to a study by researchers at the University of Turku in Finland, retirement is followed by a sharp decrease in the prevalence of sleep disturbances.

Margaret McCartney

Aberdeen Art Gallery is hosting an exhibition of the work of Ron Mueck. Mr Mueck is an ex-puppeteer and model maker who makes incredibly detailed, life-perfect sculptures of people: usually naked or partially clothed, and mesmerically and startlingly human.

The enormous newborn “A Girl” is a good example - up close, the near grimace expression is incredibly true to life, as is the smear of blood and the umbilical cord.

So much of medicine is done under pressure and speed, surrounded by technology and measurements, and one never stares. Mueck puts the normal, or “imperfect” body in the spotlight and we are allowed and encouraged to look  - and see the stories that lie within. I found it very moving. No airbrushing, no sanitisation.

My two year old, however, merely opened his eyes gleefully wide and called loud attention to anyone who would listen: “Baby’s bum! Baby’s bum!”

Margaret McCartney

The start of August: new doctors in jobs. The plight of the junior doctor is supposedly now improved with the advent of the  48-hour working week, as dictated by the European Working Time Directive.

Sensible this may sound, but there has been no simultaneous increase in doctor numbers to make up for the shortfall in hours. Many juniors complain that the decrease in training time, plus the split shifts they now work means little coherent teamwork and lousy morale. Added to this is the tagging along of clipboard-carrying administrators to find out who is staying after their shift should have ended.

Professionalism is probably one of the most important attributes of a junior doctors work and I don’t think that comes on the o’clock. Mind you, the news that RemedyUK have won the right for a judicial review on the GMC’s refusal to investigate the doctors who allowed the Medical Training Application Service fiasco to happen should cheer juniors up.

Infamously, in 2007, thousands of doctors failed to get jobs after the application system awarded more points for writing essays on being a good doctor, and less for academic ability, achievements or experience.

By Rebecca Knight

Have you ever worked for a boss who rarely took a vacation, and wouldn’t dream of leaving the office early to take her mother to the doctor, or see her son’s school recital?

I have. It was miserable. It was one of my first jobs out of university. I felt like I wasn’t entitled to a holiday; after all, if my superior wasn’t taking time away from the office, I didn’t deserve to either. And God forbid I have any personal obligations outside of
my professional ones: my boss didn’t have them, and neither should I.

By Rebecca Knight

It was a Friday from hell. I had two big stories due in the morning, my daughter’s 18-month checkup at the pediatrician in the afternoon, and I needed to pick up my car from the shop before the weekend arrived. While I managed to get it all done, I woke up the next morning feeling achy and rundown.

It’s a familiar pattern: stressful time at work, school or home, followed by a crippling cold. Is this merely coincidence, or is it possible that stress is what makes me sick?

Margaret McCartney

The Fair Access to the Professions report is just out.

The bottom line is that there are not many students studying medicine or law from lower social classes. According to the British Medical Association, just 4 per cent of medical students are from lower social classes.

I for one am not convinced that it therefore all about “raising aspirations”. A longer course means more tuition fees, as well as less time to take on a part-time job: medical students currently graduate with debt of about £19,000, estimated to increase to £37,000 once changes in tuition fees have filtered through to those starting their course after 2006.

Nor can doctors assume to walk into a job on graduation – thanks to the NHS Medical Training Application Service (MTAS), doctors have been entirely unsure where, or if, their next training job will start. I would not expect anyone – at least anyone without a family to bankroll their career choice – to think that medicine would be a secure option.

By Rebecca Knight

I’ve always bragged about the ease and convenience of working from the home. It’s the great benefit of self-employment: I do my interviews and write my stories and still manage to squeeze in household chores and errands.

It’s economical, too: when I get hungry, I whip up a sandwich in my very own kitchen. And, of course, I have the luxury of not having to commute to and from an office every day. Jealous? Turns out I shouldn’t be so smug.

Health and science blog (Archived)

This blog, part of the FT's health series, is a forum for readers interested in the science, policy, management, technology, business and delivery of healthcare.

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About our regular bloggers

Margaret McCartney is a Glasgow-based GP and FT Weekend columnist. She started writing for the Life and Arts section in 2005 and moved to the magazine in 2008. She also has her own blog:

Clive Cookson has been a science journalist for the whole of his working life. He joined the FT in 1987. Clive, the FT's science editor, picks out the research that everyone should know about. He also discusses key policy issues, from R&D funding to science education.

Andrew Jack is pharmaceuticals correspondent, covering the industry and public health issues. He has been a journalist with the FT for 19 years, based in London, Paris and Moscow