Monday, March 5, 2012

The Balancing Act

**I brake for Saturday morning donut runs.**

You can get sick of anything after eating it enough. And as much as I loved the veggie burgers sold at the hospital I trained at, eating them every 4th night pretty well destroyed their appeal. Only one thing made them bearable: the company I kept while eating them. Rockstar came to the hospital every 4th night for my entire intern year. Whether I had a 10 or a 30 minute break, those stolen moments scarfing down a tired sandwich, kept me going.

I’ve never taken my husband’s support of my career for granted. In fact, it still strikes me as this incredible thing: that he bought so fully into a dream that wasn’t his own.

When I meet young couples, one of whom is starting down the medical training road, it’s usually the partner who I feel sorry for. Because I know how this road demands everything a family has to give, and that’s harder for the person who didn’t choose it. I’ve seen relationships fall apart when the spouse wasn’t ‘all in’ and felt like it was all too much.

Last week I wrote the post below on Interruption. I talked about how the weight and joy of the white coat is that when it’s on, it’s really not about me.

**Spring is here-happy, happy day.**

Reader, Aurora, who is starting out her journey in medicine, made the following comment:

“The thing I struggle with is this: How do I be okay with taking that time away from my son and husband and (essentially) acknowledge, "It's not about me... OR you." It's so hard sacrificing family time for patients on my child's behalf. I see so many children of physicians resent the time their dad missed a baseball game to repair an aortic aneurism or counsel a patient. Where do you draw the line and how do you reconcile that boundary, emotionally?”

These are great and important questions to consider.

The tricky thing about medicine is that for better or worse, it does require a relinquishing of self that not many other professional training roads do. It’s not that other training roads aren’t as or more rigorous than medicine, but medicine is one of the most iconic service professions. There are expectations that go along with that, and they live alongside the reality that lives are always hanging in the balance.

So, what is the trick to balancing family and medicine? I’ve seen it done a lot of different ways. Over the next week or so, I’ll be stopping in to share what I’ve learned along the way. I'll start with medical school and work my way up to attending-hood (what, you didn't know that was a word?)

Here’s one before I hit the sack:

*During those first two years of medical school, be physically present as much as you can. With so much lecture material available in notesets or in textbooks, many students in my med school class skipped some lectures in lieu of reading the material on their own. Depending on what kind of learner you are, this can be an effective use of time, and free up more time with your family. The last two years of med school don’t allow a lot of flexibility in terms of location and schedule, so use that flexibility while you have it. Of course the ideal is to be home physically and mentally. But your physical presence still matters, even when your mind is on pharmacology. Some people can’t study well at home, and I get that. Sometimes my friends and I would study at Barnes and Nobles on Friday nights. We knew it wasn’t as good as library time, but we were getting through some material and also preserving our sanity by feeling like we weren’t locked away at school all the time on weekends. Especially if you have kids, think of studying at home in the same way. Not perfect, but yielding important benefits.

**Shoot for the stars, baby. And when you fall short, that's okay too.**


  1. I enjoyed your post and can't wait to read more about how you find balance with your career and family. I know I'm not a doctor, nor have I been to med school, but in some ways I feel we have much in common, as I take care of many special needs children every second of every minute, of every hour of every day, many of them not being my own. Self is something that seems very foreign to me, and my relationship with my husband... We may be in the same house together, and even in the same room, but we average about two dates a year at this point without children in a place outside of our home. And sleep deprivation... Honestly I don't know what sleep is anymore.

    I share this because we have learned some very important lessons along the way that have helped us and our family. The first being that our career choices are those of pure love and service to others, just like our Savior. If we teach our children to serve, to truly understand its meaning, they will understand and do the same.

    In our lives, there is no option to leave work at the job site. Our work is here and requires 24/7 attention. There is trauma. There are constant emergencies and changes to our schedule. Though difficult for those with autism, we have found that these moments are great teaching moments and are great ways to prepare our children and others for the real world ahead.

    Jason and I often look to general authority figures and their stories regarding keeping their family relations in tact while serving the Lord so far away from their families. We have been blessed!

  2. As the child of two physicians (one gave up the career to be at home with the kids, and one worked twice as hard to be the provider for the family), I definitely had resentment growing up (mostly during the teen years), until I met a patient's kid. We were eating at a Denny's when a 3 year old ran up to my Dad and hugged his leg. I thought the little boy was confused, but my Dad picked him up and shook hands with the father--a man who had survived cancer (because of my Dad) and got to see his unborn child turn three years old. The little boy announced that my Dad was his hero and I choked up. THIS is why my dad didn't make it to EVERY game/recital/etc and it became ok with me. That said, my Dad did his best to come to as much as he could whenever he could. Sometimes that meant missing birthdays, but he always made up for it--and sometimes that was better. If he missed a school parent-student breakfast, he would find another day when he would take me to school late, and he and I would have a special breakfast together--just the two of us, and I felt like the most important person in my Dad's life. To this day--I know that when my Dad is at work, he's at work, but he still makes the effort to email me/text me/call me on his way home. I used to wonder how my mom felt about giving up her career to raise a brat like me. Her response? Guilty. Guilty that she had gotten to see us grow up and laugh and walk, while Dad worked all day and when he came home we were asleep, So she always let him wake us, even though getting us back to bed was challenging. It is a balancing act, but you figure it out, you kids are going to resent you no matter what you do, they'll grow up, realize how great you are, and then apply to medical school themselves. ;)

    Love your blog, love your stories! Can't wait to read more on this topic.

  3. This is really interesting to me (as all your posts are) because I never begrudged that my dad had to work so much. To me it was just normal. Who doesn't leave for work at 7 and come home at 7:30 at night? Maybe because we took whatever we could in the form of love, but the second he came home, he was home, even from us locking him out to hear him fake cry before he even came in the door (I can see how annoying that would be now as a tired adult), he went along with it and played with us (and did the dishes and made us clean up--I resented him for making us turn off the TV and clean). I knew he made every effort to come to our games. And he usually had most Thursday afternoons off. But this could be because I was at the end of the family when he was past his residency, etc. I really don't feel like I missed out by him being a doctor, I also liked it when the lady at the bank recognized my last name and told me how much she loved my dad as a dr. And recently Jo met someone in UT whose son had been operated on my dad like 30 years ago. Pretty cool to hear that since he was already dead. Oh, and a guy in Safeway recognized him like 8 years after he had retired because he had worked as an EMT for John Muir. I knew he could tell something was wrong with him but he was still respectful. Stuff like that I think is really fun.

    Oh, and I have to say about my previous comment about breast implants, which you may or may not remember, I have to take it back because I'm discovering more of my friends who have them and even though I don't like the idea of them, I do love my friends. So I have to change and learn!

  4. I'm finishing up my residency (and expecting my first) so this post hits home! An OB attending and I talked about this during a c/s this weekend. She said how she is very honest with her kids. If she is on call or might be late she NEVER promises to be at a game, home for dinner or whatever the case may be. Her kids know that she will try but there is a good chance she won't be able to come. If she is not on (their group has a very strict call schedule that they are adamant about sticking to) then she can tell her kids I WILL be there and they know that she will be. I liked her point, I think making sure your kids can trust you to be there when you say you will is huge, even if you aren't able to be there for as much as you'd like to be. Of course this doesn't work for all specialties because of the variability of call schedules but it works great for her!

    PS i love your blog! I'm an LDS woman doing family practice with a non-MD husband and it's been great to read your stories!

  5. @renae--love your comment and totally agree!
    @elena--I love this perspective! Since I didn't grow up with doctor parents, this gave me a lot to think about.
    @susie--again, super helpful! these are the perspectives I need to help me round out my thoughts. Also, I do remember that comment, and I've had the same transformation for the same reasons! So interesting
    @the Drollingers: thanks for stopping by! It's great to meet other women in the same situation. :)


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