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Hugh Mulholland

Hugh Mulholland Curator

Be Inspired Series

Dr Deirdre McPeake

Consultant paediatric neurologist
Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children

Dr McPeake is training hard to take part in The Royal Does Strictly, a charity dance event which is taking place on November 10, 2012 in aid of the Children's MRI Scanner Appeal


Dr Deirdre McPeake tells us about a day in her job.

07:30am When my alarm goes off the first thing I always do is glance at my mobile to make sure I have not missed any calls from the hospital overnight. Then I wonder how our three-year-old managed to sneak into our bed and takeover three quarters of it! says Dr McPeake.

07.35am Get up and do the rounds of our three children aged 11, nine and three who can return an array of unenthusiastic grunts before getting up and ready for school.

08:00am Showered and ready for the day we always try to do a family breakfast consisting of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes for the kids and my hubby and All Bran for me.

08:30am I mostly do the school runs with my bike on the back of the car. We have three drop-offs; nursery, primary school and secondary school but luckily they are all close. I then hop on my bike and cycle to work. This is 'me time'. I don't listen to music preferring just to daydream (with one eye on the road of course). I love cycling in the mornings. It wakes me up, gives me a chance to think and makes me feel that I have achieved something. 

Most recently my daydreams vary from, 'Fitness' Freddie - my dance partner from Strictly - throwing me up in the air in a move that astounds the professional ballroom dancing world, to the CEO calling me in to discuss the disrepute I have brought to the Belfast Trust! 

09:00am to 17.30pm Each weekday is structured to include a balance of clinical and educational / academic duties and of course the huge amount of administration that comes with any senior post.

A typical Wednesday, for instance, starts with formal team teaching, followed by a quick coffee and our grand ward round in which all four of the neurological consultants meet with our fantastic team (occupational and speech therapists, physiotherapists, clinical psychologists, social workers, nurses and junior doctors). 

Here we discuss in detail all of our in-patients and other patients we have been consulting on in any of the hospitals in Northern Ireland. We then proceed en mass to see our patients (think ER... but no George Clooney).

Lunch if it occurs, is a luxury and is grabbed at any time between rounds and outpatients (OPD) in the afternoon. I usually bring in my own and eat it in the canteen or at my desk answering emails and phone calls before OPD.

14:00pm OPD starts at 2pm when Dr McPeake sees new patients from all over Northern Ireland, many of whom have very complex neurological problems. These patients will have been extensively investigated by their local paediatricians and are here to see if she can diagnose their underlying problems further. 

My main role in this process is to offer investigations but ultimately what every parent wants to hear is whether or not there is any treatment or intervention that we can offer to their child. This clinic can be challenging academically due to the complexity of the cases and emotionally as I quite often have to break bad news to parents who may be already in a high state of stress or anxiety, she says. 

From 5pm onwards, the home clock starts ticking and during this part of the day, time management is key. I need to decide on which of the outstanding items on my to-do list are most urgent and which can be picked up again tomorrow safely. I am on call 24:7 every one week in three so those weeks can be a bit more unpredictable. 

17:30pm Phone call to my husband or our child minder to let them know what time I will be home. I am very lucky to have a man who likes to cook so dinner is always a treat when I get in.

18:00pm The family always tried to have a sit-down family tea and Dr McPeake encourages her children to discuss what happened in their day. We call it Three Things That Happened Today, she explains.

18:30pm Time to get ready for the evening - it could be Irish Dancing, Ju-Jitsu or swimming but most evenings one or other of the kids will have an activity.

19:00pm Clean the kitchen, check the homeworks, check the bags and drop off/pick up the kids.

20:30pm Time for getting the kids to bed. 

21:15pm After agreeing that there is nothing on TV my hubby and I usually watch an episode of a box set of The Sopranos or The Wire. 

22:30pm / 23.00pm I'm ready for bed and read a few words of whatever book I'm eading book (The Sense of an Ending, at the moment) before falling asleep.

Dr McPeake and her husband are also organising and dancing in a charity event the Royal Does Strictly ( in November so they often have to catch up with admin work around that. The event involves consultants and directors from the Belfast Trust and local personalities who will perform a Strictly Come Dancing-style ball-room dance-off  in aid of the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children's MRI Scanner Appeal.

Finally, like any working mother, I have my fair share of stresses to deal with; juggling work, home, kids, husband, me-time, Royal Does Strictly and more. However, I am reminded every day how lucky I am to be in this situation. I am constantly humbled by the strength of the parents and children I am privileged to look after.

The great love and kindness these families continue to show to the outside world when internally they are battling with some of the most difficult situations imaginable keeps it all in context, adds Dr McPeake.


Part of the Independent News and Media group