I was talking to a colleague today who had two kids of school age. She explained to me that on days when it would snow, she was told to call the school at noon to find out if they would be closing early for the day. If they were, the kids would have to be picked up.
"Oh my god!" I said. "What do you do if the school closes??"
"Panic!" she replied.
When I finished residency, the most important thing to me was finding a job that would be flexible. My residency was not that flexible... in fact, I joked that my job had "negative flexibility." I invented this term to refer to situation that came up repeatedly when I was pregnant:
On the inpatient rehab unit, we admitted patients every day from Monday to Friday. It was impossible to know at the start of the day if there would be an admission coming that day. When I had my OB appointments (first monthly, then bimonthly, then weekly), I tried very carefully to schedule them in such a way that nobody would get stuck with my work. I chose the last appointment of the day (4:15) and did my best to get all my work done before it was time to leave. I let everyone know well in advance that I needed to leave a bit early.
Then, almost like clockwork, at 3PM, I'd find out there was an admission coming in an hour. Despite all my planning, I'd be stuck with the dilemma of trying to reschedule my appointment (again) or beg another resident to cover. Some residents were quite nice about covering ("anything for the mama!"), but others held it against me for the next three years ("and what exactly will you do for me?"). Luckily, once my daughter and I became two separate entities, my husband was able to deal with some of the doctor's appointments by himself.
I think very few residencies provide any flexibility. My own father deals with residents and fellows, and he says that he gets very upset when one of them asks to leave early for something child-related. "Don't you have a spouse who can do it?" he asks them.
So when residency ended, I was looking for positive flexibility. I didn't care as much about the job's hours so much as the flexibility to stay home for a morning or even *gasp* a whole day if I was sick or the daycare got snowed in. As a doctor, this is not so easy. You have to think long and hard before canceling a whole clinic or calling a colleague to cover.
Then again, how much flexibility does any job have? If I were a teacher, I couldn't just abandon my students at noon and rush home. If I were a lawyer, I'd have deadlines and hearings (or whatever lawyers do).
However, I would like to think I have found a job with a modicum of flexibility. But ask me again in six months.