Career Focus

Job sharing

BMJ 1997; 314 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.314.7082.2 (Published 08 March 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;314:S2-7082

Sharing a job can offer the continuity of full time work with the benefits to the individual of part time arrangements. Rosamund Jones and Helen Crawley discuss

Part time work has always been available in the NHS but often in low profile jobs with poor career progression. Despite a survey showing that 73% of women doctors and 10% of men wished to work part time at some stage,(1) opportunities remain patchy. Supernumerary flexible training posts have existed for several years and can work well, although they are often difficult to set up, with strict eligibility criteria and requiring individual approval and funding. Now, with more than half our new graduates being women, the demand for these posts is likely to outstrip available quotas. Although job sharing is still the exception in the medical profession, it can provide an ideal solution for men and women who wish to train and work part time in order to combine other commitments with their career.

Strengths and weaknesses of job sharing

Increased range of experience

Offer different subspecialties

Informal second opinion

Share committee work

Mutual support

Loss of continuity

Telephone bill

“Oddity”

Job share or supernumerary post?

There are many advantages to job sharing: the main problem being to find a suitable partner and available post to share. The flexible training scheme is particularly helpful for those who are geographically restricted. There may be delays in either system and it is advisable to explore both options simultaneously. The only disadvantages I personally encountered when job sharing, were the rise in our telephone bill and being referred to as Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

Who can job share?

Successful job shares have now taken place at all grades from house officer to consultant and in all but the smallest specialties. The regulations that apply to the flexible training posts do not apply and medical job sharing has been combined with research work and with other careers such as sport or music. Married couples have combined job sharing at work with sharing child care.

Setting up a job share

Personal contact is optimum

Contact BMA/college for names on job share register

Contact regional adviser for names of other local part time trainees

Meet and compare CVs - abandon if clearly do not enhance each other's application (difficult)

Obtain job description and work out possible split

Visit everyone you can (singly or together?)

Discuss with your referees (highlight communication skills)

Don't commit yourself to covering each other's leave

Seek BMA advice before signing contract with any restrictive clauses

How to find a partner

The first prerequisite for a successful job share is finding the right partner. Friends and personal contacts are invaluable. Each regional health authority has an associate postgraduate dean responsible for flexible training, who may know of local trainees wishing to work part time, and most of the professional bodies have an adviser on flexible training. Once a possible partner has been identified, exchange CVs. Some differences may increase your appeal to a selection panel, but beware if there is a major discrepancy in experience. Unless the junior partner is already well known locally, the result may simply be that the senior candidate fails to get the job. However, job sharing at different grades has been successful; for example, a consultant community paediatrician could share with a senior clinical medical officer. Arrange to meet and do not be embarrassed about dropping the plan if you don't see eye to eye. If you cannot find a suitable partner consider applying on your own, stating the maximum number of sessions you are able to offer and that you would be willing to job share with another applicant.

Get details of the job from the previous incumbent and make a provisional plan for dividing the work. Whole days are usually easiest with an overlap session one lunch time. Use any differences to your advantage (broader experience) but also emphasise similarities in approach. In order to be appointed you will need to be ranked first and second (or minimum first and third) by the selection committee. Consider in advance whether, if you were ranked first and your partner say fourth or fifth, you would wish to accept the full time post.

The contract

Ideally you should receive two separate half time contracts. Security of tenure is essential. If one partner leaves then the other partner should be offered the option of full time. The half vacancy can be advertised but if this is unsuccessful then a remaining trainee could have their post converted to the flexible training scheme and the original full time post readvertised. You should not be expected to cover each other's annual or sick leave; it should be shared pro rata with any full timers.

When in post

Make sure the department secretary and the switch board have your timetable. Sharing a bleep may help. Meticulous handover is no longer a challenge peculiar to job sharers. Set aside time within the first few weeks to discuss and adjust the timetable if necessary, and invite constructive comments from colleagues. Remember it is up to you both to make it work. A successful job share can make all the difference to a satisfying career which is not achieved at the expense of personal or family life. - rosamund jones, consultant paediatrician and flexible training adviser for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health

Useful contacts

New Ways to Work - 0171 226 4026

Women in Gynaecology & Obstetrics - 0171 262 5425

Women in Surgical Training - 0171 405 3474

Job sharing principals in general practice share one full time position between them, typically covering the same workload as a full time partner. Since job sharing and part time partnerships were formalised in the 1990 contract, the number of part time principals has steadily grown,(1) though as the Department of Health only counts as job sharers those pairs of principals who have jointly negotiated a contract with their health authority to cover a full time post, these data probably underestimate its popularity. Other practices may have two principals who have part time contracts with their health authority but who act as a job share within the practice.

Doctors who have decided to job share within their practice will apply to the health authority as job sharing or part time principals after weighing up the financial and contractual implications of each arrangement (see table 1).

I would argue that a job sharing arrangement is more likely to be satisfactory than part time work, not only for the doctors, but for their patients, staff, and partners. General practice entails continuous responsibility for patients. Part timers must either take home responsibility for uncompleted clinical work (such as referrals which depend upon the outcome of laboratory results), or must pass them on to a colleague. Job sharers will cover each other and should take home no more work than any other principal. Questions that arise when one half of a job share is absent should be answered by their other half, but problems arising when a part time partner is away can be harder to sort out. The communication and co- operation upon which a successful job share relies reduces the sense of professional isolation commonly felt by other part time general practitioners.

How to find a job share

Many job sharing partnerships occur when full time partners reduce their commitment, and are recruited by advertising or word of mouth, though I know of one job sharing pair who applied together, having been put in contact with each other by the practice.

View this table:

As the number of part time principals increases, it should become easier to find job share vacancies through advertisements in the BMJ. If your ideal practice is advertising for a full timer it is worth contacting them and talking things through. Alternatively, you could apply with someone else as a ready made job share. If the vacancy is local a potential job share could be quite easy to find from contacts with locums, registrars, and disaffected partners. If your ideal job is in another region it may be harder to find a match, though the BMA does run a job share register in each of its regions. A centralised register would be more useful for doctors looking in more than one region, as a success in finding a match would be more likely if the register was used by larger numbers of doctors.

How we do it

My job share and I work half the week each. We communicate by telephone at each handover and by leaving the notes of problem patients for each other. We sign each other's letters and deal with each other's mail. As we both manage abnormal results in similar ways there is often surprisingly little to hand over. Trusting each other with our mail is essential to the success of our job share.

Partnership meetings are held in the evenings and attended by all partners, who each have a full vote. Day to day decisions made at morning coffee are usually passed on when we hand over.

If a patient becomes terminally ill we make a point of involving our job share. This provides us with mutual support, and gives the patients and their relatives a choice of doctors at a sensitive time. Sometimes we obtain an informal second opinion by bringing a patient back to our job share.

The opportunity of discussing and sharing difficult cases is one of the bonuses of job sharing as it reduces the professional isolation often felt by full and part time general practitioners.

Applying as a job share

It is important to be clear on how you will share the work- load, how you will communicate, and how you will deal with each other's mail and results as you prepare yourselves for the interview. Further advice on important issues such as partnership agreements is available from a variety of sources (see further reading). Job sharing is an ideal way to work part time as a general practitioner to the benefit of the patients, practice, and doctors. - helen crawley, general practitioner, Berkshire.

References

Further Reading

Further Reading

Job sharing for GP principals (available from the BMA)

Women in general practice (available from the GMSC)

References

View Abstract