Showing posts with label DoctorProfessorMom. Show all posts
Showing posts with label DoctorProfessorMom. Show all posts

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Three Mentors You Need

A lot has been written about mentorship. In medicine, we are often assigned mentors based on our clinical or research interests.  Sometimes we get guidance on how to cultivate these relationships, sometimes we don’t. 

In 2013, the author and expert on gender and workplace issues wrote a book called “Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor” where she argued that in the workplace we don’t need mentors who just give us advice but we need sponsors who will pull us up, get our names out, and have our backs. 
I whole-heartedly agree that everyone in medicine, especially working moms in medicine, need sponsors but I have also found that we need more than that.   Over the course of my career I have found that three mentorship groups make a huge difference in my career and my life. 

Here’s what I have:

1. A  Sponsorship Team

I spent some time last year formally identifying sponsors and now have a team of them.  This team includes people who traditionally fill the role of a mentor such as more senior faculty at my institution but also come from outside this traditional role.  For example, I identified someone who has a career path that I admire and contacted him.  In some settings, there is a formal process to meet with your sponsorship team as a group but often the meetings are one-on-one and casual.  The key component is knowing who your sponsors are so that you can cultivate long-term relationships.

2. Peer Mentors

I can’t overestimate the value of peer mentors.  A few years ago, a colleague and I started organizing monthly peer mentorship lunches where we discussed topics that were relevant to us.  It was a safe environment and a huge success. The format was informal: one person picked a topic and everyone chimed in. Topics ranged from delegating tasks to staff to negotiating better pay to saying "no" when you have too much on your plate. The connections I made from this group are amazing and very valuable to me professionally and personally.

3. Outsider Mentors

I have a group of family and friends who don’t practice medicine and aren’t in academics but know me as a person. I’ve often discussed career challenges with them.  For example, I have a group of college friends in different industries that gets together periodically to do life assessments.  I am so close to these women and value their opinions tremendously. They are the people to whom I turn to when I need a reality check from someone outside my industry or when I am thinking about change.  I find that the outside perspective helps me keep things in perspective.

That’s it! These are three (groups of) mentors who have helped me.  Keeping up with these groups may sound daunting but often the maintenance of these relationships can be weaved into your lives and often they bring tremendous value to your career.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Home Alone

This summer, my three kids spent several weeks with my parents in their home in Connecticut.  For the kids, this is an amazing time when they bond with their grandparents and get away from the city.  For my husband and me, this is an amazing time to spend a few weeks focusing on work, spending kid-free time together, and getting a break from the day to day bustle of life with kids.

This summer I realized another bonus: that I could be HOME ALONE!  Yes, you heard what I said. At home with no kids, no husband, no nanny -- no one but me!

For people without kids, the simple pleasure of being in your own home with no one else around may not seem that exciting but for a mom who never (and I really mean never) gets to be home alone,  this simple pleasure is on par with fancy dinners, spa days, and juicy beach reads.  Being home alone is one of the most delightful experiences of my life as a mom.

When it first dawned on me that I could be home alone for hours at a time, I felt like the little kid from the movie Home Alone when he first realized that his family had disappeared during holiday break.  I wanted to sit in my pajamas, eat potato chips, and watch movies all day.

Of course, I had other things to do and couldn’t spend hours on movie marathons but during the two weeks when I had a few hours at home with no one else, I started to think about how rare and important alone time is.  

There’s something peaceful and rejuvenating about being in your own home when no one else is there. And it’s different to be home alone rather than other places alone.  I am alone in my office a lot but that’s different. I try to get along time by going to the spa or going to a bookstore but that too is different – it doesn’t last for long and I’m not in my own private space.

As working moms, I wish we could have more times home alone.  Not just quiet time after the kids are in bed but real time – hours when we are not exhausted, can have the freedom and comfort of home, and just enjoy the special place that we have built.  I think many of us are looking for the chance to let our hair down and if not literally but figuratively sit on the couch and watch a movie marathon.

In the months since summer, I have counted the hours when I have been home alone. I don’t think I’ve hit 5 hours yet.  I don’t know if I’ll add any more hours until next summer but there’s no question that I’m already anticipating my two week break and the bliss of my time home alone.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Girl Power

I just finished two of my best weeks as attending on the wards. It’s hard to describe exactly why these two weeks were so great but I think it had to do with a great team dynamic that involved trusting my residents, great teaching opportunities, and interesting patients.

But I also have to wonder if my great experience was because my team was all woman including a resident and a medical student who are both moms.  Here are a few observations from my rotation.

First, resident mom and med student mom AMAZE me.  Resident Mom has two school aged children which means she has had kids during her entire residency.  Med Student Mom has an infant and is on her second rotation after maternity leave.  She drives an hour each way to get to the hospital and leaves her baby for long stretches with her mother. I am exhausted just thinking about her schedule.

What amazes me most about Resident Mom and Med Student Mom is how calm, unstressed, and pulled together they seem.   They work the crazy hours of training yet never seem stressed or tired or cranky.  This is quite different from how I felt (and likely appeared) when I had my son during residency. I cried every morning when I left home and complained a lot about the fatigue and stress I felt.

Resident Mom and Med Student Mom appear quite different.  They are super calm and seem truly on top of everything.   I am in total awe of their dedication and composure.

The second thing I realized is that mothers in medicine need to support each other and the hierarchy of medicine shouldn’t get in the way. There is no question that training will always be grueling and the workload will be heavier for students and residents than for attendings.  

I can’t change this system. But I can create a better culture where people feel safe to talk about the pressures of training, particularly being a mother in training. 

Mothers in Medicine blogger, KC, wrote about a different approach when she became a division chief and met with a new mom who returned from maternity leave.  “We talked about her transition back to work, their childcare arrangements, and where she stood in terms of identifying academic areas of interest,” she wrote. This was a total reversal from her own experience eleven years earlier with male bosses.    

My recent experience on the wards reminded me of KC’s story.  As mothers in medicine start to rise up in the ranks, we can create a culture that supports other mothers, especially those who are still in training or early in their careers.  We are the ones who recognize that it is not easy to be a mother in medicine.  It was natural for me to ask Med Student Mom if she was able to find a lactation room and ask about Halloween costumes and understand that some mornings are harder than others.  

For some of us, showing this support comes in the form of blogging and writing and working for policy change.  But for many of us, support comes in a quieter form – a silent culture revolution. It can be asking questions of how another mother in medicine is doing - whether she’s feeling stressed or guilty or exhausted.  It can be breaking down the hierarchies and treating each other not as students and residents and attendings but instead as adults who share a common thread of motherhood. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Tackling My To-Do List

I have always been a maker of to-do lists.  Ever since childhood, I enjoyed making to-do lists and checking of completed tasks.  But somewhere between residency and motherhood, my to-do lists got out of control. 

As an intern, I had a clipboard with a to-do list that a) ridiculously long and b) my life (i.e. if I lost the list, my life as an intern might end). 

Motherhood (which began when I was a third year resident) brought a whole new set of to-dos.  My home to-do list started to rival my work to-do list.  In the ten years I’ve been a working mother, my to-do list has become a monster that I lives a life of its own and now controls me more than me controlling it.

Some bad things were happening.  First, I would look at my list and feel a sense of panic.  Second, I felt totally unaccomplished because I could never actually get through my list or even make a dent in it. Third, I was always late because I was always trying to eek one more task into my day.

A few months ago, I decided to reevaluate my to-do list process.  I had read lots of productivity books (in fact, I’m a bit of a productivity book junkie). I had tried making a four-quartered square to prioritize tasks. I had tried to dedicate time to finish tasks at the end of the week.  But nothing was working. 

Here’s what I did.  I made a list of the domains of my work and life and created one monthly goal in each domain.  For example, I have an ongoing list of things I have to work on in my apartment. Instead of keeping an enormous anxiety-provoking list of a million tasks, I pick a room of the month and focus on it. 

My work involves a lot of writing, teaching, and administrative tasks.  In each of these domains I created one monthly, practical goal.  In the writing domain, my goal is to prepare a final version of a research paper and to start a draft of a new manuscript.  Nothing more, nothing less. 

After I set monthly goals, I create daily to-do lists that contained about five to six tasks.  These tasks work off the monthly goals (e.g. finish my MIM post) and a few other things that are more routine (e.g. clean my office desk) or just come up (e.g. buy last minute party favors for my son’s birthday).

The shorter list is a huge change from my previous lists. It takes a lot of effort to keep it short. With the barrage of emails every day, it’s very tempting to add one more task. But the vast majority of these tasks don’t need to be done today and instead can be done in a few days when I have an emptier list with more room.  The key habit it to write down the task on another day’s list so that I don’t stress out about forgetting it.

My to-do list experiment has been really insightful.  A few expected things that came up:
  1. My stress level dropped.
  2.  I feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.
  3. I’m much more connected with my kids and husband (i.e. when I get home and I am not trying to get 80 more things done and actually focus on my family).
  4.  I’m on time (ok, not always but more frequently).
These were all things that I expected and was pleasantly surprised that they came true but something unexpected came up.

I became much more productive.  I did not expect this.  I thought that with a shorter list, I would get less done. What I found was that with a shorter list, I actually got more done.  I especially got things done that I had been dreading or putting off for months. 

In the course of three months of my experiment I finished three manuscripts, started drafts on three more, wrote five blog posts, and cleaned out my kitchen cabinets (this task had been on my to-do list for two years). I also watched several movies with my family and did not pull out my laptop to-do work during them (this is unheard of for me).  

As mothers in medicine, we are expected to-do an almost superhuman number of things in our lives.  Ladies – let’s take back our sanity and tackle our to-do lists!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The End of Summer

When I was a little girl, the last few weeks of the summer were filled with mixed emotions. It was still summer vacation but I knew that fall and school were looming around the corner.

In some ways, I feel like that little girl except now I am a mother and instead of summer vacation, I feel like I am in the summer of motherhood. And like that little girl, I don't want summer to end.

Summer has felt like the best season of motherhood. Sure, the spring of motherhood was spectacular. I experienced motherly love for the first time and the miraculous growth of my babies to become toddlers. There were so many delectable moments: first smiles, first steps, bear hugs. There were so many moments when I wished I could freeze time and capture the delight, innocence, and charm of my babies.

But like springtime, with it cold days intertwined with perfect days, mothering babies and toddler was exhausting and difficult, at times. There were sleepless nights, fussy eaters, double strollers, and truly terrible twos.

The summer of motherhood is exactly what you’d expect – it is relaxed and calmer and truly amazing. My sons are now ten, eight, and six, and I have experienced so much joy at these ages that I wish I could make time stand still.

Life is easier. My children dress themselves, brush their teeth by themselves, and read themselves to sleep. This summer involved no strollers, no separation anxiety, and no fear of pools and beaches. Instead it involved a myriad of camps where my sons learned, grew, and had fun. This summer included two kid-free weeks when my boys were with my parents and a myriad of weekend adventures.

I watched my six year old son learn to ride a bike. I watched my ten year old son play electric guitar for a Beatles cover band. And I watched my eight year old son learn how to play improv jazz on the piano.

The highlight was a trip to Italy. We saw art, we relaxed in the Tuscan countryside, we enjoyed great food and card games in the evening. I would never dream of going without my children.

Summer has been amazing. So it’s no surprise that I’m starting to feel the pangs of sadness that I felt as a child - that sense of sadness that a wonderful time is ending. But at this point in my life, it’s more than just this summer. I feel pangs of sadness that my summer of motherhood will soon end and I just don't want it to.

Sooner than I think, I will be in the autumn of motherhood. My kids will be teenagers. I suspect they will want to spend less time with me. They may dread family vacations. And they will, no doubt, be sassier.

I feel like a broken record when I say that motherhood just flies by. There are so many moments when I wish I could stop time - keep my kids exactly as they are and never let them change. This is a moment when I really feel that way.

Unfortunately, I have no way to stop time so I am trying my hardest to enjoy every moment that I have during this amazing summer of motherhood.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

My Mother’s Daughter

My mother is a doctor who started a solo practice in the 1970s when there weren’t many working mothers, let alone working mother doctors.  She worked tirelessly to establish her practice and then became one of the busiest primary care doctors in the area. I think she was happy with her decision to practice medicine but I know she has regrets about working full time.  She often told me that she wished she could have worked part time or taken off time while we were young.  When I started a family, her advice was to spend less time working and more time with my kids.  

I’ve taken her advice very seriously and have tried very hard to find a happy balance between work and mothering, but in many ways, I am my mother’s daughter.  I am a doctor.  I am a mother of three children.  I struggle with issues around work and balance and guilt.  But I am also very driven to succeed and my mother’s path may be a big contributor of that drive.   By witnessing her courage, strength, and perseverance, I knew that women could work and their kids would still turn out to be great.   

That’s why it’s so encouraging to see research that supports what I always knew – that the children of working moms are very likely to succeed.  

A few months ago, researchers from Harvard Business School published findings from a study where they found that daughters of working mothers were more likely to work themselves, have supervisory roles, and earn higher incomes compared with daughters of non-working mothers.  

This is exciting and affirming news for all us working moms.  And in some ways it's not so surprising.  When I think about my kids and who they will grow up to be, I often wonder what will motivate them, what will make them happy, and what will shape their future selves.  There’s no question in my mind that role models play a huge role in shaping their decisions, their paths, and their destinies.

As for my own mother, I shared this study with her and she wasn’t surprised by its findings.  But she still feels sad that she wasn’t always around after school and on the long days of summer and in the classroom as a volunteer.  Those feelings seem pretty universal and hard to shake.  

The good news is that she is now retired, has six grandchildren, and lots of time to enjoy them.  Plus she has three kids who are successful by any definition and who deeply love her and are grateful for her hard work and for the role model that she was to us.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Girls Don’t Cry

I have been following the response to Sir Tim Hunt’s incredibly sexist comments on women in science and thinking about how it relates to a working mother in medicine. If you haven’t heard of Tim Hunt, he is a Nobel prize winner who made headlines earlier this month for saying “…three things happen when [girls] are in the lab…You fall in love with then, they fall in love with you and when you criticize them, they cry” at a lunch for women journalists and scientists in Seoul.

Not surprisingly, the response has been overwhelming.  Some of my favorite tweets:


and my all-time favorite…

But all joking aside, sexism still exists in science and medicine.  And as a working mom I’m very sensitive to issues of sexism, ambition, and differences between men and women.

This may be because I am constantly pulled in two directions (career versus family) and wonder if my ambition is ever questioned. On the one hand, I don’t want to draw attention to the fact that I am very much pulled in these two directions and must balance work and life.  But on the other hand, I do want to draw attention to this struggle to help support other women and help others understand decisions working moms need to make.

The fact is that I make very conscious decisions that incorporate both my work ambitions and my motherly ambitions. No, these decisions do not involve being distractingly sexy or crying in the lab but they do involve taking a slower and, sometimes, more convoluted paths.

I have rejected significantly higher leadership positions because they would squash my flexible schedule, I consciously avoid travel, and I am not willing to move my entire family for my career. To some of my male colleagues, these decisions may seem crazy, but, for me, these decisions are very calculated. 

I’m very conscious of burnout and hope to keep a level of balance that helps me work full time, find satisfaction in what I do, and keep me on an ongoing trajectory so that when I am no longer in the weeds of motherhood, I will still have interesting and meaningful career opportunities.

That being said, there are times when keeping the reins on my career is hard. I wonder whether I am being left in the dust when I see male colleagues make different choices and move up the ranks faster than me. And as a working mom, I never want to compromise other women by having my ambition questioned. 

But even with these doubts, I am incredibly proud of the difficult career decisions that I and every working mother have to make.  I know I will only have a short time with my kids at home and I want to cherish that time.  I’m sure there will be time in the future to turbo charge my career if I want.

In terms of Tim Hunt, I’m not sure if #distractinglysexy and #crybaby necessarily come up as issues for my career but ambition, choices, and timing certainly do. I think if we keep open dialogues and try to respect for each person’s decisions then I think we can push the conversation.  What do you think?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

MIM Intro: Doctor Professor Mom

Hello, I am Doctor Professor Mom.  No, that’s not my real name but it’s a name that makes me really proud.  My oldest son coined it a few months ago when he learned that I am not only a doctor but I am also a professor and I am also a mom.  He seemed genuinely proud when he coined the name and, of course, I was equally proud both at his creativity and at some of my accomplishments.

Even as a Doctor Professor Mom, it’s hard to feel accomplished.  Maybe it’s something about academic medicine where I feel pulled in a million different directions. I teach; I do research; I see patients – it’s easy to feel like a jack of all trades and master of none.  Add on a busy family life and mastery is not in my cards.  But academic medicine has given me incredible flexibility, variety, and satisfaction.  Plus, I get to proudly say I am a doctor and a professor.

Of course my proudest accomplishment is not that I am a doctor or a professor but that I am a mom to three boisterous, energetic, and absolutely wonderful sons.  They are ten, eight, and six (gasp - how did they get so old).  After ten years of motherhood I have a lot to reflect on in managing a household with two equally ambitious working parents and ever changing challenges of parenting. 

I became interested in writing about my experience as a doctor and mother after my first son was born.  I spent 18 months crying every day when I went to work and decided (with the incredible support of my husband) to leave my job and stay home.  Then I struggled trying to find my identity as a stay-at-home mom (I wrote about this experience in an essay called Dr. Mom).  I returned to work and decided to focus on research and a career in academic medicine.  For me, it was an excellent choice.  That being said, the struggles of being a working mom, finding meaning and satisfaction in your work, and all the other challenges of life never go away even when you feel like you’ve found the perfect job.

When I wrote Dr. Mom in 2007, so many women contacted me and thanked me for sharing my story.  I promised myself I would write more, but, not surprisingly, life got busy.  I’m thrilled to have a place to write, to be a part of a community of women in medicine and hope that something I write will resonate with someone else.