Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Help with attending job interviews!

T minus 8 months until I join the real world.

I am now 4 months into my breast imaging fellowship. It's about that time I start looking for my first attending job!! As someone who went straight through in my medical training, I have no idea what a job interview truly entails. Yes, I've done plenty of interviews. I know what it's like to sell myself as a medical trainee but as for joining the real world, I have absolutely no idea.

My experience looking for a job might be a little different than some because I am geographically limited. My husband started his (first) attending job in a city 2 hours away from where I am doing fellowship. On a side note, this situation is so much better than our west coast east coast marriage while he was doing fellowship last year! As much as I am looking forward to joining the real world, I am really looking forward to our family of 3 to finally be living under the same roof!

I went on 2 interviews so far. The first one was not the same location but same group as my husband's place of work. Given that it's part of the largest managed care organization in the United States, questions outside of who I am, what I can offer were really not asked. Details of what the contract would entail, how much I would make, what my benefits were and etc. were not discussed. Mostly because I already knew the answers to these questions and the fact that I was told that there was no need to go over a contract from this place as it was standard across the United States. I came back from this interview thinking it went well and that it wasn't much different from a fellowship and residency interview. A downside to this job is that it will be a 45 minute commute to where we will most likely settle down.

The second interview I went on was a large private practice group in the city where my husband practices. It's a group of approximately 80-90 radiologists. We talked about my dual boarding in radiology and nuclear medicine. We discussed the possibility of working within my preferred subspecialties (breast imaging and nuclear medicine. We discussed the possibility of working part time, which got me really excited. I also met some of the radiologists in the group, who all seemed very nice. However, I came back after my interview most of my conversations with my attendings at work went like this.

"How was your interview?" "Good. I really liked the practice"

"What is your base salary?" "I don't know..."

"What is your retirement?" "I don't know..."

"What benefits are offered to you?" "I don't know..."

"What about maternity leave? " "I don't know..."

"Do you get paid overtime for call?" "I don't know..."

"How many years until partnership?" "I don't know..."

Basically, I felt like an idiot. And now, I am waiting to hear back from both jobs but I feel like I cannot really compare and contrast since I don't know the answers to these questions!

How do you go about asking these questions during a job interview? Do you ask right away? Do you wait until there's a proposal? Is these anything else I should be asking? Do you need a lawyer to review your contract?

Thank you in advance for your help!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

How Do You Do It All? (i.e. The Art of Being Imperfectly Perfect)

Genmedmom here. 

Let’s face it: working moms have alot on their plate. A patient recently complained to me how guilty she felt because she couldn’t be a perfect mother, wife, accountant, and friend, all at the same time. If she felt really good and strong in one area, she was slipping in another. “No matter how much I try, I’m a failure!” she declared. 

Okay, look, despite the expectations on us, no one can achieve perfection 100% of the time. No one is going to excel in all of the areas of their life always. But we can manage. We can do our myriad jobs well enough. And we can be happy

On a weekly basis, I usually manage: four clinic sessions a week (approximately twenty hours seeing patients), one morning precepting in the firstyear medical students’ interviewing and communications course, co-parenting our two school-aged kids (with lots of family help), regular blogging on three separate blogs, kids’ dinner/ bathtime/ bedtime virtually every night, about three good workouts per week, church and big family dinner on Sundays. 

Is it all done perfectly? Hell, no. I wish I could get to all the patient phone calls, emails and lab results every week. It would be great if I could do the reading before the medical school course. Our kids are late with homework probably at least once per week. We never seem to know what's going on at school until the last minute. My blog posts often have typos, and could have used a little more editing. My workouts are sometimes really short. We don't get to church or have family dinner every Sunday.

But I can say this: We fit in what we need to fit in. We do what we feel needs to be done. It's not perfect, but, for us, it is. Imperfectly perfect. We, as a family, are happy.

I am often asked “Geez, how do you do it all?” 

Well, if what you're aiming for is happiness rather than perfection, then I’ve thought about this. It will be different for everyone, but generally, I suggest: 

Identify your time-wasters and eliminate them. What time-consuming things in your life do not help you to achieve your goals, and do not serve a healthy purpose? For me, that’s television. I do not watch television unless there is a really good reason. I’ll watch a Disney movie with the kids once in awhile, all snuggled on the couch. And, of course, once a week our whole family watches my husband’s football team play. Other than that? No sitcoms, no news, no movies. Social media can also easily become a time-sucker, so I limit that to my train commute.

Hire cleaners, if you can. Yes, we all know that we are capable of cleaning. But how much is your time worth? You are an M.D., and if you were paid by the hour, you would earn $100, at minimum. Multiply that by a thousand- no, a million- and that’s how much your hour is worth to your kids. Though we couldn’t afford it when we just started out, as soon as we could, we hired a cleaning service. They are worth every penny.

Order anything online that can be ordered online. We have groceries, pet supplies, clothes, shoes, furniture, books, et cetera delivered right to our front door. 

Stay local. Need to run an errand? If possible, avoid driving time, and support local businesses to boot. 

Schedule carefully. There are so many options for kids’ activities around us. It would be very easy to slip into driving-everyone-all-over-the-place-for-this-or-that-thing. We were forced to hold back quite a bit, as our son with autism doesn’t handle a busy schedule very well, and doesn’t do drop-off events at all. So, we have a music teacher who meets them in my mom’s home after school one day. And we choose family activities like hikes, trips to the farmer’s market, and scouting (Boy Scouts), rather than kids-only classes like dance and tae kwon do. We’ve realized that this quieter, easier, more familiar approach results in less hustle and bustle, and doubles as “family time”. 

Identify toxic relationships and avoid them. Okay, I'm wandering into therapeutic territory here, but the truth is, people who make us feel bad are a real drain on our precious time and energy. Conflict and negativity are distracting. We can't be our best selves now if we're re-living an argument or re-thinking that weird conversation from yesterday. If there's a person around who consistently brings conflict and negativity into my day, I avoid them as much as possible. Likewise, if there are good, psychologically solid people who support me and boost my mood, then hey, I want to spend more time with them.

Keep reasonable goals. I’m not striving for crazy achievements in any area. I’d like to take good care of my patients, be a solid teacher for my students, raise emotionally well-adjusted kids, keep on writing until it goes somewhere, stay as healthy as possible, and be actively engaged in our community. Like I said, it's not perfect, but, for us, it is. Imperfectly perfect. We, as a family, are happy.

What about other mom-docs? How do you "do it all?" What do you do to save time? How do you keep you and your families happy?

Saturday, October 15, 2016

[Watching our friends get] Married... with [our] Children

Let's bring the boys to the wedding, we said.

It will be fun, we said.

We were so cocky. Bean had been to several weddings and loved to dance, we reasoned. And Teeny, though young, was just so chill that it wouldn't be a big deal. An outdoor, afternoon wedding of a laid-back couple with tons of family medicine and pediatrics residents in attendance. It would be like a weekend away without needing to pay for a baby-sitter. What could be more perfect?

We rented a house through Airbnb so that we would have plenty of space and the boys would have their own rooms. We beat traffic on the way there and spent the next morning exploring the cute town. We stumbled upon a farmers' market and ate ice cream for lunch. The boys even went down for a pre-wedding nap.

On the way to the wedding, we talked about how we would need to be very quiet. (We had no illusions that we would actually sit down for the ceremony, but planned to watch from a safe distance.) As we rounded the side of the beautiful inn where the festivities were being held, the bride was just starting to walk down the grassy aisle to the strumming of a guitar. Bean pointed to the musician and began shouting, "Man playing 'tar!!!!!"

We retreated. A staff member inside kindly pointed out a large picture window overlooking the lawn where we could watch without disrupting things.

At that point Teeny let us know that he was hungry, so I settled into an armchair in the corner to nurse him. My husband headed to the window with Bean, but there was a problem: the parlor of the inn was filled with so many nice things and Bean needed to investigate all of them. There was a large birdcage containing actual birds and a stone fireplace and so many trays of seashells and trinkets and shiny objects. In other words, it was a room we had no business entering.

"We really need to rethink whether we bring the boys to weddings," my husband noted a few minutes later in a tone that struck me as irritable, though he adamantly denies having felt annoyed. I sighed and internally (or maybe externally) rolled my eyes. We were in another state and the celebration that we had traveled here to attend had just begun. There could be no second thoughts.

As soon as Teeny had finished nursing, my husband pounced. "My turn to hold him!" he exclaimed, which was code for it's your turn to chase the toddler. But Bean was in great spirits, happily occupied by tracing the contours of the stone fireplace with the car key that my husband had handed him to play with. I relaxed a bit and began to really take in the gorgeous setting. On the other side of the fireplace, I noticed a basket filled with books and a plush stuffed lobster. As Bean began to edge too close to the hurricane jars lining the hearth, I lifted him up, intending to plop him down by the [unbreakable] lobster. While in the air, he started to protest: "Hold key! Hold key! Hold key!"

Which is what he says when he wants to hold something that he is not holding.

I looked down at his empty hands. "Key? Where's the key, Bean?" I asked in an urgent whisper, not wanting my husband to hear. "Bean, what did you do with the key?"

"Hold key!!" he wailed, and I left his side, hurricane jars be damned, to retrace my steps, scouring the floor.

"What does he mean, 'hold key'?" my husband asked, because of course he was right there and had heard and now realized the predicament.

"Don't worry, I'm sure it's here - " CRASH!!!!!! 

I spun around, expecting to find my family covered in shards of glass. My husband, with Teeny in his arms, had sprung to action trying to find the key, but in doing so had knocked over an end table. An end table that had held a glass dish of beautiful, fragile seashells.

Of course that was the moment that the inn's manager entered the room.

"I'm so sorry! We're so sorry!" my husband yelled, frantically gathering shells in one hand while cradling Teeny in his other arm. 

"Hold key! Hold key!" Bean continued to wail.

"Just let us know how much we owe," my husband huffed, still scrambling to scoop bits up off the floor. "And also, we're missing a car key."

Outside, the ceremony came to a close. The bridal party and guests began to make their way back up the lawn toward the inn. Having already crawled along the floor to peer under the couch, I stood up and spied the key nestled behind a throw pillow. Somehow the glass and shells and whatever else were picked up off the floor. My husband and I gathered our things and, each taking a child, stepped out onto the back porch where guests were now mingling over cocktails. In the kind of frustrated yet silent agreement that comes from more than a decade and a half as a couple, we parted ways, each joining a separate section of the throng.  

By the time dinner started, Teeny was napping contentedly on my shoulder and Bean had begun to make his presence known on the dance floor. We had caught up with old friends and made new introductions around the table. And for the rest of the night, our family was happy and smiling.

I had thought that some time would need to pass before we could speak of - and certainly before we could laugh about - the scene at the inn. But as he pulled our car out of the parking lot at the end of the night (well, the end of the night for a family with small children), my husband grinned. "Well that will make quite a story."

Since that time, I have referred to it as "The Wedding Where We Almost Got Divorced," though he swears it was never that serious and he was never that annoyed. And as for bringing the boys to weddings? We haven't done it again. 

At least not yet.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Money and mothers in medical training

Children are expensive. So is medical school. Children take up a lot of time. So does medical school. Unfortunately time and money are two things in considerable shortage during medical training. Mixing children and medical school can be an unhappy combination. We had our baby halfway through medical school (me) and residency (the Mister). There has been lots of discussion regarding the timing of procreation in medicine (eg here and here and on this blog). My general takeaway can best be summarized with this license plate.

I have found some serious life wisdom on vehicle license plates.

My general takeaway 1.1 regarding the subject of timing babies in medical training is that there is no perfect time. Each time is good in some respect and not so great in others. Having spent my 20s in pursuits of other advanced degrees, I didn't want to wait until I had a "real doctor job". But that meant that financially it was not such a great decision. Residents stipend is not enough for supporting a family, especially when one member of said family is incurring expenses of medical school. More than a third of our income goes to childcare expenses, and that's not even including food, diapers, and a multitude of other child related expenses. We are always worried if we'll be able to pay all our bills at the end of each month. I am in debt up to my eyeballs. Financial worries are always lurking in the background of my thoughts, and money has been on my mind even more as I am looking into taking out more loans for upcoming residency interviews.

A friend offered me wisdom from her interview experiences, telling me about some common interview questions, one of them being "Tell me about a difficult experience you had in medical school". I said (almost half jokingly), urrmm pretty much the entirety of medical school since having a baby has been one incredibly difficult experience. It is difficult to separate the experience of being a parent from that of being a medical student, and money has been one of the connecting threads between the two.

Daycare was the only affordable childcare option for us, and we are lucky to have hospital subsidized daycare. It was amusing (not really) when one of my classmates thought that "hospital subsidized" meant that all costs were covered by the hospital and it was free of charge. No, it just means there is a small discount. Though it is a "hospital affiliated daycare", but like most other daycares, it is not a 24/7 facility. Having both spouses in medical training means that both of us have very little control over our schedules. There are plenty of times that we are both working outside of daycare hours. And trainees may have an 80 hour a week work limit, but a child requires care 168 hours a week.

This same classmate who thought that daycare was free, was also surprised to learn that I hired baby sitters to study for medical school exams. "Wait, so every time you have to study, you have to pay someone to watch your kid? Can't you just put him in a playpen and do your studying?" Before I had a baby, I envisioned this picture of getting home from the hospital and spending daily finite hours of "quality time" with the little one and then he would, I don't know, put himself to bed or maybe I'd read him a little bedtime story at the end of which he'd dutifully doze off and sleep through the night, and I'd get more hours of "quality time" studying. Or just like my classmate I assumed that I would be studying while the baby/toddler would be happily playing by himself on the side with his toys, of course, without interrupting me. Those fantasies/assumptions disappeared pretty fast when a real baby (who is now a toddler) showed up.

Talking to other people in our situation (two medical trainees with no family close by) most options I heard of were not financially viable alternatives for us. I have heard people say to not worry about money and keep taking out loans because when I have a "real doctor job", I'll be able to pay it all off. Maybe there is truth to that. But when I look at the enormous amount of debt that I have already accumulated, and when I think about the uncertainty with future physician compensations, I don't feel comfortable taking out loans to whatever amount.

Things haven't always worked out great with this whole arrangement. I have less than perfect grades in medical school. I feel like if it was just the hours in the hospital and then I could come home and eat, pray, love or something, it would be fine. But because work just gets started after getting back home from work, is what makes it so hard. After a particularly rough rotation that had lots of nights and weekend shifts (read: "when daycare is not open" shifts) and an end of rotation exam, I bombed the exam. The course master told me that he was really surprised about my exam performance because the clinical portion of my grade was stellar and there was such a discrepancy between the clinical grade and the exam grade. I didn't know how to explain that for me studying for exams cost money. Whatever little savings we had, had recently disappeared after a family emergency, and as interview expenses had drawn closer, I had scrimped on getting sitters to study for tests.

As a minority it is sometimes difficult to explain or convince people even in the face of overwhelming evidence that social factors control how you experience your life and the color of your skin can change the opportunities and travails you encounter. At some point it is tiring to keep going through the explanations over and over and knowing that unless someone has actually been there, they really won't know what you are talking about. I feel that way about the experience of being a mother in medicine too. I could go blue in the face with my explanations but it is exhausting.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Woman in Scrubs

Now how's this for stereotyping:

Sometimes when I drop my youngest off at school, I've seen another mother dropping off her daughter in the same class.  And she always shows up wearing scrubs.

I've had a couple of conversations with her.  And of course, I'm dying to ask her what she does for a living that she's always wearing scrubs.  But I don't want her to tell me that she's a nurse.  And then I'll have to tell her I'm a doctor.  And any possibility of friendship will be vanquished.

There are probably a few things wrong with this:

1) My certainty that there will be awkwardness upon discovering that she is a nurse and I'm a doctor.

2) My assumption that she's almost certainly NOT a doctor herself.

As for the first one.... it's likely predicated on the fact that I've never had a nurse friend.  And I can't even get any of the nurses I work with to call me by my first name.  As for the second one... well, just going by the numbers, I'm probably right.

Yet another case of my career feeling like a detriment in my quest to make friends.  Recently, a mom I met at a playgroup asked me if I was a nurse and I was sooooo tempted to say yes.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Would You/ Did You Deliver In Your Own Hospital?

Genmedmom here.

I could not have imagined going anywhere but the OB/GYN office down the hall from mine. My lovely OB was a clinical instructor in the same course as me, and I ran into her at the medical school from time to time, in between my prenatal appointments. She'd seen my cervix and God knows what else was going on down there, and yet we would find ourselves standing around pleasantly chatting about curriculum changes while sipping lukewarm coffee. I didn't care.  

Just take good care of us.

Still, with my first, I went a little psycho around delivery. I created an annoying three-page natural-no-epidural birth plan with all sorts of stipulations: no med students, minimal residents, no male anybody.

Ha. When the meconium hit the fan, there I was being wheeled into an O.R. crowded with every level trainee and both genders well-represented, and I didn't care.  

Just take good care of us.

Babyboy had to be rapidly and forcefully extracted: hauled from above and pushed from below. But he was born and he was healthy and all was good.

For my second, I had no plan. I was so traumatized by how violently OPPOSITE everything had turned out from what I had envisioned the first time around, I couldn't make any decisions at all. So my lovely O.B. firmly (but nicely) guided me through a successful VBAC.

I've seen her around since and we are very friendly. I've probably also run into multiple nurses, residents, and students who were witness to my howling hysteria in one or the other delivery, but I can't remember who was there from either so who cares.

Personally, I'm glad that I delivered with a physician I know professionally and admire. I could never have managed going to any other hospital but my own anyways, too inconvenient. 

But not everyone feels the same way. The question occurred to me: Where do OB/GYNs deliver? Do you guys generally prefer your own or a different hospital?

How about other specialties- OB anesthesia, what about you? Does it vary at all by specialty?

Maybe it just has more to do with individual comfort level with the total, supreme lack of privacy, and knowing you will be definitely be observed if not at your worst, then at least, perhaps, not at your best.

I'm very curious about this, as I am covering this topic for a doctor-mom writing project. Please, share your perspectives! Inquiring minds will want to know.

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Versions Revisited

I retired my personal blog a couple of years ago, but at one point, it was a very big part of my life. The importance of capturing the details of my life - with all of their humor, fake drama, and sometimes real drama - loomed large in my priorities. And capturing the details of my children and how they were growing was part of that.

I started a regular series on my blog that took the form of Version Updates. Like software updates, with the latest advancements and continued operating failures. It started with Version 14.0, when my daughter was 14 months old. This, of course, led to some nice creative outlets and photoshop skill development. I eventually felt like my children had "graduated" from having such scrutiny and carried it through until each was around 3 1/2 years old (that's Version 42.0 for anyone counting). I hoped that one day, they would be thankful that I catalogued their journey through the early years of life and didn't think I had exploited them for entertainment and cheap laughs.

I published a book of my daughter's Versions posts to give to her, complete with a dedication in the front. I included that I hoped she knew that I wrote it all down in love and that I was laughing with her, not at her.

Well she's now 11. Almost as tall as me. Her feet are bigger than mine and she borrows my clothes. She's seen the Versions book of her and knows where we keep it in the bookcase downstairs in the playroom. The other day at dinner, she was mentioning the autobiography her class has been tasked to write as an assignment. My husband and I were playfully retelling some of her funnier moments at the table when she leapt up and ran downstairs. She came back with the Versions book and started reading at the table. Every so often, she would read a passage out loud, and we would all laugh. She flipped the pages and soaked up the words. Those words, my words, echoed all around us, delivered with her voice. It all came back - oh yes - you used to say that! The memories tumbled by, and I loved, loved that she was relishing in it.

After dinner as we were cleaning up, and she and I were alone for a moment, she said, "Thank you for writing this. It is very special." After a pause, she added, "Can I do this for my children too?"

My heart leapt. "Of course you can. I'm so glad you like it."

She carried the book off to her room, to later continue thumbing through it while lying on her bed. I'm not sure what I liked more about this: that she'll know herself and how she grew, or that she'll know the eyes her mama saw her with and the humor that narrated her story from the beginning.