Showing posts with label work-life balance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label work-life balance. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Career poll: if you weren't a doctor, what would you be?

Since beginning my clinical rotations as a medical student, I have been exposed to so many interesting, dynamic jobs within health care that I never knew existed such as Recreational Therapy, Occupational/Physical Therapy, Respiratory Therapy, Doula, Midwife, Lactation Consultant, Clinical Social Worker, the list goes on and on.


As someone who regularly follows MiM guest posts and who talks to many premedical students, I always find it interesting that exposure to other fields in medicine is so lacking. There are so many different ways to become a health care provider and though Doctors are among the highest in the hierarchy, without a diverse group of providers we not only fail to provide the best service to our patients, but we often fail to address core issues that determine health outcomes. 

With that said, for the physicians around:
  • if you weren’t a doctor what medical professional would you be or would you choose a completely different field?


And for those in training:
  • what other careers in medicine have you researched, considered, or shadowed in? What did you think?


My answers:

  • If I hadn’t become a doctor, I would be a Recreational Therapist with a focus on alternative methods such as massage and reiki or a Doula/Health Coach/Life Coach/Interior Decorator
  • Prior to my training, I didn’t really spend time shadowing Nurse Practitioners or Physician Assistants but should have. I will be entering academic community pediatrics in an urban setting and the overwhelming majority of my mentors and folks whose careers inspire me are Pediatricians. However, if I was interested in more community or rural medicine, pursuing a career as a  Nurse Practitioner or Physician Assistant would have been a possible alternate route to providing primary care with much less debt and better work-life balance.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Princess Service

“Your Princess Service has arrived.” At the end of my holiday shift, those words uttered from the lips of my Dream Guy, were like music to my ears.

I just completed a 6 day holiday shift working what our residency program has deemed WARS (working at reduced staff). You work up to 6 shifts in a row and get either the week of Christmas or New Years off in addition to your 3 weeks of vacation. I gladly got one of my favorite inpatient services with the Division Chief that I most admire. However, after morning 3 of waking at 5am to arrive for sign out by 6am, I was tired, my feet hurt, and I was forgetting what sunlight felt like on my face.

Three years into residency, our family knows to plan for rough stints like this and to have extremely low expectations for how our house will look (though I am so ashamed about how cluttered our bedroom is and bemoan its state daily with apologies). My in laws came into town on day 1 and are staying for 4 days after.

My day of work ends with O calling and making some silly joke about my “Princess Service”. The staff members here call being picked up or dropped off from work “Princess Service” and O has added it to his lexicon. I don’t think he quite knows that it is one of the highlights of my day.

I have arrived home daily to Zo playing on the floor with his grandmother with blocks or making Playdoh cookies, a glass of wine waiting for me, and delicious vegetarian fare cooked by my in laws or my husband. By around 8pm I can be found in my pajamas nodding off on the couch while someone else does the dishes. I somehow make it through story time and have been in bed by 9:30 or so every night. O and I watch our new favorite on-line miniseries, this month it’s American Horror Story, and I pass out.

WARS has ended and I begin the next part of the end of this year, applying for my medical license in the 2 states that we would love to end up in, and preparing for my next interviews.

Here’s to all of the Princess-Mommy-Doctors out there. I hope during this holiday season you feel the joy I feel each time I hear “Your Princess Service has arrived.”

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Vacation sans bebe

I read a few articles recently about Americans and vacationing. Of the only 25% of Americans who have paid vacation days, they have an average of 3.2 days left unused each year (OECD, 2013).

Unused vacation days. Not us!!! We use them all up. Zo travelled with us for the first close to 2 years of his life. However, once he was weaned and could no longer be lulled into a breast milk-induced-coma, we began planning trips without him. Many thanks to my parents and in-laws. And thanks to my cousin for letting us use her timeshare to enjoy fabulous, affordable vacations.

Here is my chronicle of our delectable and delightful second Vacation Sans Bebe, New Orleans style. I will focus on the food because New Orleans has to have some of the most amazing, creamy, luscious, sinful, gluttonous food around and there is just too much to write about (the wonderful people, the outstanding architecture, the cultures, the alcohol).

Best brunch ever - I can’t tell you how much O and I love an excellent brunch. My Sorority Sister B and her husband R who work for a major oil company in Louisiana met us at Slim Goodies. The french toast below was the best I have ever had; crispy French bread crust, fluffy middle, dusted with powdered sugar, and drizzled with syrup! Paired with mimosas that you prepare yourself (orange juice from Slim Goodies and prosecco from a neighboring restaurant they have an arrangement with), it was amazing!

(scrambled eggs, french toast, and large mimosa from Slim Goodies)


Best lunch - oooooh oooooh oooooooh. Gumbo and crawfish at Cafe Reconcile. Amazing nonprofit organization that trains local teenagers and young adults for careers in the restaurant business. Wonderful staff. Delicious food. The crawfish sauce was so complex yet not overwhelming. The grits were soft but had some substance to them and were perfectly seasoned.

(crawfish on grits, from Cafe Reconcile)

And the tie for best dinner - Bacchanal Wines and Houstons.

Bacchanal had to be one of the most fun experiences. We took a taxi into the Ninth Ward past factories and train tracks and end up in a cute neighborhood. You see a line on the corner entering a house with a big fenced in yard. You enter what may have previously been a living room, but has been converted into a wine and cheese shop. You purchase a bottle of wine, get a cheese plate (we unfortunately didn’t order one and the line was too long by the time we wanted some cheese), and go find a table. There are at least 100 people sitting and standing around. There is a live band playing in the courtyard. It is magical.

My husband and I failed on our first attempts to find a table, finally separating while he waited in the 20 person long food line and me making googly-eyes at folks with finished wine glasses taking up space. Finally, a very nice retired couple took pity on my and told me to pull up an empty chair. We sat at a candlelit table talking and drinking until they left.

And then the CHICKEN arrived.

Notice how I put that sentence on its own line. I had confit chicken that literally melted in my mouth with bok choy and a yummy carb I can’t remember. I did a little research on what confit means; it is to cook meat in oil at a low temperature (it’s not fried, it like melts away, oh goodness, soo yummy). That chicken was soo freaking good I am hungry just writing about it; the skin was crispy and perfectly salted and the chicken literally fell off of the bone and just melted in my mouth. O had a grilled tilapia that was equally divine. For dessert we had dark chocolate drizzled with olive oil and sea salt with even more wine.

(courtyard at Bacchanal Wine, image from http://fleurdelicious-nola.com accessed 11/1/2014)

Beignets - and on our last night in NOLA, we toured the city, stopping in shops. Eating. Drinking alcohol-containing beverages in plastic cups while walking (crazy that you can do that legally in NOLA). We ended the night on the banks of the Mississippi eating beignets from Cafe DuMonde with B and R. We heard approaching music as a first-line band leading a wedding party approached. As is the customary, we all stood up and joined in dancing and singing “As the Saints go Marching in” under the twinkling night sky.

Here’s to the best vacation sans bebe, NOLA, we love you bebe!


(Voodoo Tour, St. Louis Cemetery #1)



Our recommendations for excellent food in NOLA:

Slim Goodies, Cafe Reconcile (weekday breakfast and lunch only, nonprofit that does job development and career training for teenagers and young adults in the Garden District), Cafe DuMonde, Houstons, and Bacchanal Wines (get there early and just go ahead and get the darn cheese plate!).

Of note, I have no conflicts or disclosures, we went everywhere based on recommendations from friends and paid for everything ourselves. All pictures were taken by me and O unless otherwise mentioned and cited.

References:

An Assessment of Paid Time Off in the U.S. Implications for employees, companies, and the economy. Accessed Oct 16 2014.

Center for Economic Policy Research. No-vacation nation revisited. 2014. Accessed Oct 16 2014.

Work-life balance. Accessed Oct 16 2014.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Birthday Call: from zero to 60 and then somewhere in the middle in mere hours

40 minutes into my commute to work, I had a pseudo-melt down. As I sang “Happy Birthday” over the phone to my three-year-old, I lost it. I realized that I hadn’t kissed him on his birthday, I’d forgotten my lunch and during a 28 hour call the cafeteria food begins to make me nauseous, and that I was exceedingly anxious about all of the changes our lives will encounter over the next few months.

Needless to say, I’m in the call room after a deluge of discharges, awaiting our next transfer, feeling the urge to write and release this tension.

My Little Zo is three today. Three years ago, on this day, I birthed a fabulous little human being into the world. He’s helped me grow in countless ways. I’ve learned to let go. I’ve learned to give my all in the moment and then pass things off to someone else (to hubby O, to my parents/in-laws, to the wonderful ladies at daycare, to his Pediatrician). I’ve learned that keeping your own kid alive and occupied means breaking lots of rules (my infant slept on his belly after weeks of sleepless nights, my 2 year old ate yogurt and spinach smoothies or oatmeal for dinner on picky-eating nights) and that I am so much more capable than I ever thought imaginable. I’ve realized what’s important (playing legos and dinosaurs before bedtime and leaving my notes until he’s gone to bed, sleep, couple time, giving my all at work and not worrying about my child since he’s taken care of at all times).

In less than a year, I’ll be an Attending and yet another goal will have been achieved. I have had a few successful telephone interviews and I have my first in-person interview in October with a community health system affiliated with my medical school. This morning when I was sobbing, a great friend, KJ, who is now a Pediatrician in private practice gave me her pep-talk. We have these at least once every few months. She tells me about all of the little and big victories she has in her life after residency. She has weekends off and time to be with her boyfriend and her dog. She tells me about her quirky colleagues and her amazing patients. She tells me how different things will be in a few short months.

So, on Little Zo’s third birthday, I went from zero (dragging myself out of bed after an exhausting month on inpatient service during asthma season), to 60 (sobbing in the Starbucks parking lot), to somewhere in the middle. I am thankful for three years of motherhood. Thankful that Zo is vibrant, healthy, active, super-smart, and super-sweet (when he’s not biting or hitting). Thankful for only 3 more days on inpatient service before 2 months of elective and that I've been able to do great work this month and keep folks' babies alive and healthy! Thankful for friends like KJ who understand the struggles of residency-based medical practice. Sad that I wasn’t at home snuggling Zo and our visiting family members. And hopeful of life after residency.

Happy birthday to my little roaring dinosaur - Mommy loves you!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

What's your idea of fun?

Our health centers are “medical homes” now, so I have to come to accept (but not necessarily embrace) my allotted turn or assignment to work, i.e. see pediatric patients, on an occasional Saturday. Periodically, I am able to trade these away, so they end up being few and far between. After a full day of patient care on a recent Saturday on a recent 3-day holiday weekend, my family (me included) were out to dinner and a colleague happened to be picking up dinner at the restaurant where we were dining. She came over to make small talk, and I mentioned I'd just come from working the whole day.

My young son then chimes in with, “But mom, for you, work is fun, so it’s not so bad.”

And that got me thinking about whether or not it is fun. Of course, there are all kinds of fun. Family fun is our recent amusement/water park trip, swimming in any lake, ocean, or gorge together, and family movie night. My individual "fun" is going on a long run, doing the Sunday NY Times crossword puzzle, or simply sleeping late.

But the perception that work is fun has got me thinking. Indeed, a lot of pediatrics and teaching is, when my patients giggle and the toddlers talk and my students are inspired and inspiring. And my work is gratifying. It feels meaningful. But at times it is heart-wrenching. I’m intrigued that “fun” is how I portray my work to my children, or that this is how they perceive my orientation towards what takes me from them day to day. That this one word (fun) has encapsulated their mom’s chosen career path.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Self advocacy - why is it so hard?

It’s funny how a few things collide, to suddenly make life crystal clear. It’s job application time for me, and I was lucky enough to receive three offers, strangely enough covering the gamut of work life balance from no after hours to full on subspecialty. After much deliberation, I chose the job that would best complement all my roles – mother, wife, doctor, furry friends owner, health advocate wannabe – you all know the list. I recognised I was burnt out, and at risk of leaving medicine altogether if I didn’t make an active decision to change my hours and where I was headed. Both my husband and I are in high level, full time roles, something I never felt comfortable with for the children. Here was my opportunity to make a change more in line with what I wanted for my family. I’m a firm believer in if-something-isn’t-right-fix-it, don’t just wish or whinge! Fast forward one week - past all the happiness at finally making a decision, the peace that the decision was right for me and mine, excitement of starting a new job, the daydreams and plans to incorporate fitness, walk the furry friends, spend more time with hubby and children - to today. I’m catapulted from a state of contented decision-making bliss into Guilt – guilt I now know is ‘doctor guilt’ (thank you Emily). It deserves a capital G, don’t you think, for the central place it often plays in women’s lives? So what happened?

Well a couple of things. Firstly, taking this new, wonderful job involves resigning from my current job, something that I’ve never had to do before (I’m yet to do this, because I’m waiting on a formal contract). It also means leaving a path I’d always thought I’d follow, and jumping into a reasonably unknown area for me. After making my decision, I had a conversation with the boss of the subspecialty I’d originally planned to follow, creating doubt in my mind that I’d made the correct choice. She wanted me to take her job offer, and I felt like I was letting her down in choosing not to. It was also ‘known’. After the ‘doctor guilt’ came self recrimination – in resigning, I am jumping ship, baling out, leaving colleagues in the lurch. In reality, my position is actually supernumerary at present, so in actual fact, no-one is left in the lurch, but my soon to be old hospital won’t remember that. I’m now the person I never thought I’d be – the one who leaves a post early.

This really forced me to choose what was important to me. I sat down and thought long and hard about my values, what I considered ethical, the life I wanted for my family, the sort of mother I wanted to be, and whether that married with my current workload (no surprises the answer is no). I pictured myself in each of the three jobs, and tried to see how I felt, what my reactions were. I read widely, trying to build a picture of my future career options. I came across an article about women failing to speak up when sexually harassed and why we are all so ingrained to be ‘good girls’, to not create waves, keep everyone else happy. I had many long chats with close medical friends, trusted senior colleagues, and my husband, who all agreed I should take this job. People who, like me, would never ordinarily leave a post early. I was told leaving a post early is common, people do it all the time. Not me though. Never me. In an ideal world, I would ask to start the new job when this one finishes, in five months time. That’s the path of least resistance.

But spending another week, let alone another month, in my current position is too long. My family needs to make a change now. As well as that, moving now saves me time at the end – possibly nearly a year of time (due to retrospectively counting some of this year, something that probably won’t happen if I don’t move until next year). The next five months in my current job is surplus to my training needs. So, for the first time in my life, I’ve chosen to do what is right for me. I’m going to take the community based, no after hours or on call job, and I’m going to start in 4 weeks. All I have to do now, is tell them. Resign. Although I’ve decided, I still question it, and probably will, until my contract arrives, and I have to make the decision final.

So I guess two questions. Has anyone else ever left a post early? Taken a leap of faith? Any advice on whether it turned out ok in the end? Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Taking Care Of Ourselves

Genmedmom here.

A patient of mine recently asked me how my kids are, and what cute things were they doing nowadays? I'm very open about my family with all of my patients. They've seen me huge and pregnant, and they've seen my colleagues during my maternity leaves. My kids' photos hang in my exam room. We often trade parenting experiences as part of the visit.

So, I was not at all put off by her asking about my kids. Her visit was over anyways, and we were only making small talk as we wrapped it up. I described how Babyboy is a little engineer, always building and figuring things out, and that Babygirl is full of sass and song, teasting and challenging and singing all day long. She laughed and said a few things about her kids, how they were all grown up, how she missed their little days, but didn't miss how hard it had been.

"Make sure you take care of yourself," she said, suddenly not laughing anymore. It was a bit abrupt, this serious turn of mood.

"I mean you need to take the time for care for you, because you need to replenish your strength, to be able to care for your kids. Exercise, salon time, friends time, it's really important. You need to do that." She was beseeching me.

"Uh, okay, yes, I know what you mean, absolutely..." We were moving towards the door.

She stopped, and said, quietly: "No, really, I can see how tired you are. You're really, really tired. Remember to take care of you. I need you to, too!" Here she smiled, and the door opened and she was gone, leaving me unusually flustered, standing there for a few seconds, wondering what next.

I know I carried on with my clinic, and then went home, and did the dinner/ bathtime/ bedtime routine with my kids. I know I crammed in some mail opening, bill pay, and reading. I know that sleep was likely disrupted by something... If not one of the kids (usually Babygirl) then the cats, or this nagging cough I've had. I know I am really, really tired.

Now, I have alot of help from a wonderful husband and my untiring mother. I do get to exercise twice a week. I write, which is therapeutic. Hubby and I sit down for dinner every night that he's not traveling, and we have family dinners every week. I don't shop much, or see friends that often, and I can't remember the last time I went to a salon.

I honestly can't tell if I'm taking care of myself enough or not. I think I am. But if patients see me as exhausted, drained, that's not good. I'm not sure how much more time I can carve out for "down time" things, and I'm not sure I feel that strongly about making that happen.

What do others do to take care of themselves? How much down time do you need?

Friday, August 8, 2014

(Don't) Hide your kids!

The first year after my daughter was born, my end of year evaluations digressed into a lot of talk about whether or not I was mommy tracking myself.  The criticism was not about my work ethic or my skills. Apparently, there was an extensive discussion about how overly preoccupied I seemed to be about my daughter.  I mentioned her too often.  The suggestion of part-time residency came up and the sentiment was that I would no longer reach my full potential.  These meetings are supposed to be confidential-ish but I was told afterwards that perhaps I should try to hide my kid.

The instructions to hide my daughter came from a good place.  It came from an attending who had my best interest in mind.  He mentioned that in this world even though I was working just as hard, family issues were going to be looked down upon.  I would be stereotyped.  People aren't used to mom surgeons, especially not as residents.  He told me a story about sneaking off from work as a fellow to pick up his sick son by making up some elaborate story to hide the reason that he had to leave.  “It is more respectable to meet friends for beer than try and pick up your child from daycare,”  he told me.  My response…I would talk about my child incessantly!

So, I did.  I figured, if the world wasn't ready for women to be both surgeons and moms, than I would help to make them ready.  The end result is that I feel this has brought me a lot closer to the other hospital staff who are sometimes more open about recognizing the importance of family.  Being closer to the hospital staff makes my job easier.  I chat with the nurses, scrub techs, office managers about our families.  I feel like it gives me a sense of legitimacy and realness which means we are all on the same team.  Also, an unexpected result was that I became the “mama hen” of the residents.  There are a few more junior residents with kids or husbands and the associated stress.  I try to keep an open door policy for them.  And we have real and frank conversations about how hard this can be.  The supportiveness of being able to have this dialog goes both ways!  Also, I find that many of my attendings take an interest in my family life as well as my surgical development.

This past year’s evaluations had no mention of mommy tracking.  In fact, I was made chief resident.  Last night, as I sat finishing up work in the chief’s office while my baby girl bounced around watching Dora and coloring, I felt I made the right decision.  She knows all the names of the other chiefs and incorporates them into her world.  She loves coming to the office and is well known throughout the department.  She chats with me at night about her day and asks about my day.  She tells me she wants to be a doctor like me when she grows up (well, a doctor and a cowgirl of course).  I’ll never hide this beautiful girl!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Say What?!? Time to find a job!

It’s that time of the year. Career preparation time. I am applying for community pediatric jobs in the D-M-V (Washington DC-Virginia-Maryland) area and it feels surreal. Medical school in the area was extremely enjoyable and our family hopes to return and lay some roots (is it weird to really want to be on House Hunters?!?).

What didn’t happen:
- I didn’t get Chief Resident. I was pretty bummed out for several weeks, but I think it’s for the best. My mentors reminded me that I pretty much have all of the skills I would have been able to obtain (leadership, administrative) and if I am totally honest with myself acting as an Inpatient Attending for several weeks and crazy hours is not my cup-of-tea! I’m all about outpatient medicine and am ready to have regular hours, my own patients, and more time with my family. No pseudo-residency-with- poor pay increase for me.

What has happened:
- started talking to my Academic Advisors about my interests in community pediatrics
- had a few outstanding people offer to serve as references (Clinic Director, Chair of our Peds Heme-Onc Department, Mentor, etc . . .)
- written and revised my cover letter
- written and revised my Curriculum Vitae (CV)
- gotten considerable feedback from my Clinic Director, Academic Advisor, family and friends including an amazing sorority sister who's a Lawyer who cut my cover letter up so much that I basically rewrote it and it's soo much better
- started regularly visiting the PracticeLink and Pedsjobs websites
- registered for the AAP National Conference in San Diego in October

What I still have to do:
- finish reading “Lean In” (loving this book, so enlightening and inspiring. I’m all about leaning in!)
- send out my cover letter and CV to personal contacts in the area letting them know I’m ready to “discuss employment opportunities” (loving the sound of that)
- actually find some jobs to apply to
- go to the AAP Conference’s career fair and professional development sessions and dazzle some program/practice reps and learn about interviewing and contracts
- finish the last 11 months of residency
- start work as a Pediatric Attending Physician (woo-hoo!)

Alright practicing physicians - any suggestions? Anything you see missing in my list above? In applying for jobs after Residency what mistakes did you make? What do you wish you’d done differently?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Play dates: Mothers in Medicine Style

Most of the Mothers in Medicine contributors, including myself, write anonymously. I write about my husband O and my son Zo knowing that folks who know me can figure out pretty quickly who I am. I write as if my boss is reading my posts, though I have never actually told her, but just in case, I write as if she may read them, nothing too embarrassing. I write to share and get feedback from folks near and far who understand my struggles and my triumphs in ways that my non-physician family never truly will. I have been writing for MiM since I was a Medical Student and over the years I have started telling folks beyond my family to check out my posts including some trusted work colleagues.

Over the years, I have felt like I have come to personally know many of our regular contributors and even a few of our regular commenters. I hope that someday there will be a big Mothers in Medicine Conference or maybe just a gathering at a bigger annual professional conference. When I read Cutter’s posts I said, hmmmm, I think we work in the same hospital! Flash forward to several months later (and many thanks to KC) and Cutter and I had our first MiM meet up at a local museum. Her daughter is super duper cute and Zo was smitten at first glance. He quickly followed her to the slide and then he began chasing her around the exhibits.

Play dates are always good times to reflect on the joys and vent about the struggles of motherhood, but when the other parent is a MiM, it is especially cathartic. Cutter is amazing. Chief Resident, Super Mom/Wife, super hair braider (from Youtube videos nonetheless). We spent hours talking and it was so nice to have someone who understands the doctoring and the mothering because it makes for a really unique life.

I have had a few other play dates with women Doctors including several with a beloved Attending who has young children. These times are equally amazing. She has the wisdom of being several years out of residency and fellowship. The first time I asked her and her kids out for a play date, she gladly accepted. We met up at another local museum and the next time at a park. Each time there was a lot of her being a cheerleader, saying “You’ll get through this.”

Play dates with stay-at-home mothers usually involve looks of pity and many exclamations of “I can’t believe you work that much.” Play dates with 9 to 5 working non-physician mothers usually involve less pity, but still many “I can’t believe you work that much” looks. There was none of that at our MiM playdate and I liked it!



Here’s to many future play dates, MiM style!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

What Does "Lean In" Mean? Whatever You Want It To.

Genmedmom here. You'd think that as a doctor and a mother and a blogger with a focus on work-life balance, that I'd have been psyched to read Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In. Truthfully, I dreaded reading it.

I figured I'd have to read it sooner or later, given what I do, and I wasn't looking forward to it at all. From the bits and pieces I'd heard about it, I assumed that it must be a pushy, finger-wagging manifesto designed to make me feel more guilty that I already felt.

But I felt guilty NOT reading it. So one day, when I ordered a bunch of books on Autism (our son is autistic) and a few Barbara Brown Taylor essay collections, I also ordered Lean In. It sat on my bedside table for about a month. The other books got read (I read a lot), but Sheryl's smiling face looked up at me night after night, book closed, waiting.

Finally, one night, after the kids were down and charts were done and my brain needed some book reading for an hour or so, I realized I had nothing else to read but smiling Sheryl. I very reluctantly opened it...

And she had me at the second paragraph of the introduction.

She describes how she gained seventy pounds in her first pregnancy, and suffered from brutal nausea the whole time; how she struggled with simply walking, and realized that Google needed to have pregnancy parking close to the building, for all pregnant employees. So she made it happen. Wow.

Flashback to my pregnancies, where I gained, yes, seventy pounds, and felt awful, and struggled with simply walking... Like many employees of my big city hospital, I park at a garage about a mile away, and walk in. For my first pregnancy, my manager gave me a handful of parking passes that I used in the last ten days. That was great, but it was the last ten days, and there weren't any for my second pregnancy. I remember waddling painfully to and fro...

The point of her sharing the anecdote is to illustrate that she didn't realize how helpful pregnancy parking would be until she experienced it for herself. She wondered how no one brought it up before:

"The other pregnant women must have suffered in silence, not wanting to ask for special treatment. Or maybe they lacked the confidence and seniority to demand that the problem be fixed. Having one pregnant woman at the top- even one who looked like a whale- made the difference".

The book continues in this style, outlining the significant challenges women face in today's workplace, dotted with personal anecdotes and shared stories, humor, and problem-solving suggestions. There's plenty of data, but it's not boring. I was surprised at the praise, validation and encouragement for women at all angles of leaning in, including those who work part-time or stay at home. There is very little by way of exhortation; actually, I had to search for anything:

"I have written this book to encourage women to dream big, forge a path through the obstacles, and achieve their full potential. I am hoping that each woman will set her own goals and reach for them with gusto."

I actually enjoyed this book, and strongly recommend it to any woman considering a career in anything.

So, why did I dread reading it? Why did a book described everywhere as "an inspiring call to action" sit gathering dust on my bedside table for a month?

Well, as an internist who works part-time and mother of two young children, I've been exhorted, invalidated, even attacked. So, I assumed Sandberg's book would be another attack. It's not every day, but I'm sure I'm not the only part-time physician who has encountered this, the face-scrunching and "So, how does THAT work?" or a "Don't your patients get frustrated that you're not fully available?" kind of thing.

The attack most famous came from a senior female physician. I remember how sick I felt when I read anesthesiologist Karen Sibert's Op-Ed "Don't Quit This Day Job" in the New York Times (June 2011). In this essay, she doesn't just frown upon women working part-time in medicine: she crushes them. Worse, she crushes the aspirations of those considering medicine as a career:

"I recently spoke with a college student who asked me if anesthesiology is a good field for women. She didn’t want to hear that my days are unpredictable because serious operations can take a long time and emergency surgery often needs to be done at night. What she really wanted to know was if my working life was consistent with her rosy vision of limited work hours and raising children. I doubt that she welcomed my parting advice: If you want to be a doctor, be a doctor....You can’t have it all."

The death blow, however, was to people like me,

"Patients need doctors to take care of them. Medicine shouldn’t be a part-time interest to be set aside if it becomes inconvenient; it deserves to be a life’s work."

The... what do you call this? It wasn't an implication or an accusation, it was a sound dismissal of MY life's work. I have a small panel of patients, commensurate to my four clinical sessions per week. I work in a warm, nurturing environment, in a group practice of all part-time female internists. We have excellent clinical support staff. We enjoy great flexibility in our hours. We also are also regularly evaluated and rated by our patients, as well as our hospital, on various criteria ranging from patient satisfaction surveys to outcomes data comparisons between practices, and we perform extremely well.

I also have two small children, ages two and three, a working husband who is a wonderful partner, and family close by. I'm almost always home for dinner, and enjoy most weekends with my family. Yes, we carry pagers and are on call for ourselves Monday through Friday, with weekend calls shared, and there are occasional calls at less opportune times (bathtime, bedtime..). And, with the advent of the patient portal, where patients can communicate with providers online (kind of like email), they can send me a message basically anytime. But overall, clashes between work and family are few and far between.

My gut sense is that what I have going works. Most of my patients are working women, and I'm open and chatty about being a working mom (can you tell?). My kids' photos are up in my exam room, regularly updated, and patients eagerly ask about them, just as I inquire about their families. We trade stories. I receive solidly positive feedback from patients and colleagues alike. (I feel weird putting it on paper, all this positivity, but isn't that what we women do, is downplay our achievements?)

THIS is my "leaning in". I do not aspire to be a department chair, to publish in the peer-reviewed literature (though I have), or to have my own office with puffy leather chairs. I have made the considerable achievements of graduating from medical school, surviving residency, and thriving in a highly regarded primary care practice. I want to be a good doctor and a good mother (and to write about it!) I believe that you CAN have all this, because I do.

That is the beauty of the message from Sheryl Sandberg: "leaning in" isn't a one-size-fits-all formula. As in the quote above, she hopes that women set their own goals and reach for them.

Sandberg also talks about how women need to help other women achieve their goals. I agree with that, and it starts with pregnancy parking! It also includes calmly ignoring even senior female docs like Karen Sibert when they try to force a one-size-fits-all, my-way-or-the-highway approach onto a career path as variable and malleable as medicine. Sandberg discusses the phenomenon of senior women not only being unhelpful, but even hindering the progress of the up-and-coming women:

"Critics have scoffed at me for trusting that once women are in power, that they will help one another, since that has not always been the case. I'm willing to take that bet. The first wave of women who ascended to leadership positions were few and far between, and to survive, many focused more on fitting in than on helping others. The current wave of female leadership in increasingly willing to speak up. The more women attain positions of power, the less pressure there will be to conform, and the more they will do for other women."

So, read the book, and either make your way up, or reach a hand down. Set goals and "lean in" any way you choose, because only you know what is right for you, and if it's right for you, it's all right.

And I'm interested to hear what others think of smiling Sheryl's book.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Hot (Scheduling) Mess

There has been a lot written lately about work-life balance. In a session with my Therapist last week, she laughed and said “you’re a Resident, for this last year of residency, I really just want you to survive!” We spent the remainder of our session coming up with ways that I can pay people to do things I don’t have the time to do. And she made me promise to work harder to eat better, sleep more, and exercise more; my turn to laugh. Next week, our family will be trying out a week of made-from-scratch meals from a local organic market while I finish a busy week of nights. And we are looking for a second cleaning person after the first one proved to be a bad fit with our family.

Scheduling time away from work for things like research, board exams, and doctors appointments is an exceedingly stressful aspect of my life. Because we get our schedules pretty late, I try my best to email the our Scheduling Attending and Chiefs at least several months before I think I’ll need time off. Nevertheless, I sometimes get my schedule and there are conflicts and then I have to forward back my original email requesting time off and the hot-scheduling-mess begins.

Last year, when I took my Step 3, I emailed the Scheduling Attending and waited so long for a response that the dates kept filling up. I had to extend my eligibility period and finally had to use research time to take the test. I have heard countless stories from other Residents recounting their shared experiences (many have to use vacation time) and how stressful it is to try to do things you have to do.

This year, my son will be spending my last Intensive Care Unit month with his grandparents while my husband is away doing research. He will spend the first 3 weeks with my parents, but once their vacation time is used up, he’ll spend an additional week with my in-laws. At the suggestion of my husband, I emailed the scheduling Attending and requested off a single day and offered to make it up during my vacation.

I feel guilty that we need our parents to watch him. I feel guilty that I asked for a schedule change. However, it would have been a very stressful and traumatizing experience for all of us if I tried to travel, get Zo acclimated, and get myself ready for life without my family for a whole month in 2 days. And then to make me feel even worse, I get an email saying that the Scheduling Attending talked to my Residency Director and my Clinic Attending and she would like to know if I really need that extra day off. They understand my unique situation but they want to double-check before they reschedule me.

As I began to stifle my tears, my husband came over to rub my back. I explained my distress and he reiterated that even though it’s hard, I have to ask for what I need. He reminded me to not feel bad and that “it’s the culture” of medicine that makes it difficult for folks to realize that what we are asking for is not unheard of.

After taking a break, I responded that yes I do need the day, that I would personally call the 2 patients I have scheduled, and that I again would be more than willing to make it up using a vacation day.

Thus ends this installment of my hot-scheduling-mess until the response email. Dunnn dunnn dunnnnnnnnnnn.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Homeschooling options for the busy parent

My husband and I are products of public school education. Don’t get me wrong, we are both extremely motivated and successful but we both believe that our education was lacking in very significant ways. My husband now teaches college students who have only been taught under “No Child Left Behind” and we are both very concerned about the results of this method of learning. As the parents of an extremely bright and energetic 2.5 year old, many of our conversations revolve around preparing him for a future that requires tools that traditional education will not provide him with.

One of my best friends from college who is an innovative teacher and curriculum developer attended Montessori schools for her early education. The methods she used to remain organized during college amazed me. She color-coded and charted and organized in ways that I did not even know existed. Studying for me was always about picking up my book, reading, taking notes in the margins, and more reading. It wasn’t until medical school that I learned how I most effectively studied. I began drawing funny caricatures (nothing close to Netter’s) and charting and mapping things out so that I could better process the material and retain it later. As a second year Resident I still use this method. I can’t even imagine how much stress could have been relieved and how much better I could have learned if I studied better earlier.

Back to Zo, my little genius in the making. He amazes us. He is more than a sponge. Every day he comes home and does and says something new; something that makes us pause, smile, and say "how/when did he learn that?!?" My husband and I are exposing him to as many good things as we can. We listen to music (kiddie things like the Dino V, adult things like soul, jazz, rap, classical) and dance all of the time. He helps us cook (he mixes), plays outside, goes to museums. He attends an amazing Spanish-immersion daycare and knows more Spanish than both of us. We got rid of our TV when he was an infant, though he does watch a few hours of Netflix Dinosaur Train and Turtle Tales on the weekends while we straighten up and prepare breakfast. Every 2 weeks we get a new book kit from the library that contains 15 books on a toddler-friendly subject.

But he’s learning so fast and I know he can learn more, I just don’t know how. I read Amy Chua’s Tiger Mom and I’m not a fan of her parenting philosophy, but I will incorporate some of the things that I agree with and like. I want Zo to learn the best way he can, I want him to learn a martial art, to be fluent in another language (Spanish), and play an instrument (kind of got this from Chua and Fifty Shades of Grey, LOL!). I belonged to an amazing mommy-group in the mid-Atlantic before starting residency where many mothers home-schooled and their children were so inquisitive and learned; it was inspiring. I love being a doctor and homeschooling full-time is just not an option for us. 

I have begun researching “homeschooling” options for working parents and am looking for more resources. If you have done modified homeschooling or know anyone who does, please send them my way. I promise to keep you all updated on our progress. Things will be kept very simple since we only have a toddler, but I’m sure as he ages, I will find other fun, innovative ways to supplement what he learns at school. 

So for this week’s "Homeschooling for the Busy Parent" activity:

- lots of fun time and play, dancing, riding our bikes outside, and time at the playground
- nightly reading of our colors books
- I will make some simple flash cards and we will focus on primary colors and then secondary colors using a concept called “isolation” that I learned on YouTube from a video-blog called “Preschool Homeschool”

Monday, March 3, 2014

My Big ‘ole Fierce Mama Heart

Somewhere between first seeing the 2 purple lines on my pregnancy test and wrestling with my 2.5 year old toddler as he runs giggling at full speed and throws himself into my arms, I have gained a big ‘ole fierce mama heart. It’s strong. It’s wise (wait, did I say that, ME, wise?!?). It’s powerful. It feels more strongly than anything I ever could have imagined.

It has changed me. Immensely. I know that I am so much more of a better clinician because of it. It keeps me up when I’m on call. It makes me teach the Interns and Medical Students more about how to care for our patients with all that we have. It makes me spend extra time reading and enhancing my knowledge base. It helps me give practical advice to my clinic patients and even though some families still can’t believe I’m old enough to be a doctor, they seem more comforted when I talk to them about my own family.

I’m different because of this shining little boisterous boy who chose me to be his Mama. The one who drools on me as I laugh. The one who says “Mama go to work” and walks me to the door in the morning. I leave each day with him blowing me a kiss after I ask “dame un besito”. He has given me this big ‘ole fierce mama heart that I am soo thankful for.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Stop scaring the "fresh meat"

I volunteered recently at a meeting for Latino high school, college, and medical students as a member of my hospital’s Residency Diversity Initiative. I had gotten the announcement a few months prior and realized I would be on a pretty straight-forward month with weekends off. I checked with the hubby that I could take about 3 hours during his prime studying time to volunteer and he agreed.

The students were engaging. The high school students asked silly yet endearing questions. One absentmindedly asked another resident and myself our specialties three different times because he kept forgetting what we said. He was sweet, but goodness, I hope his focus and attention span increase before starting college.

Several of the medical students asked very educated questions, ones that showed they knew where they were going. One particularly prepared medical student, dressed smartly in an off white blouse, flattering pencil skirt, and pearl necklace asked a series of questions that we answered. She thanked us and left. Then she came back later to chat some more. She began her new string of questions with “I don’t mean to sound, ummmm, superficial or anything, but even though I’m interested in all types of medicine, I am worried that if I go into Family Medicine instead of Internal Medicine that I won’t be able to pay off my loans.” I shared a quick, knowing smile with the Family Medicine resident sitting next to me and we began to talk to her about following ones passion. We also reminded her several times, indirectly and directly that regardless of what type of medicine you practice, each of us will be in the top 1% of US income-makers. The top 1%.

Yes I know $120,000 instead of $200,000 (in a surgical subspecialty) seems like a huge deal, but honestly, every single Family Medicine Attending the other resident knew and every single Pediatric Attending I know is living very well. Yes, they may have a ton of debt they are working to pay back, but every single one has a family that is well taken care of. Everyone I know has a nice house (mostly owned and not rented), a decent if not really really nice car. And none appears outwardly to be struggling to afford their basic needs. I apologize if these are material things, but that’s what she was asking about and we answered because it’s a very real concern.

And that’s the Attendings, not the Residents. Every Resident I know, including myself, lives in a nice apartment. Many Residents in my program own houses, not rinkey-dink jacked up houses, but really nice grown-up houses with nice yards. We can afford to go on vacations and we buy what we want at the grocery store including at Whole Foods (which my father-in-law refers to as Whole Check). My husband and I budget our limited money well and hope to buy a house in the first several years out of residency. And we are already well on our way to having my student loans paid off within 10 years using the income based repayment straight out of medical school. Don’t get me wrong, if we didn’t have my husband’s graduate school scholarships, our family of 3 with a single working adult (me), we would be very close to being eligible for public benefits (Section 8 housing, food stamps, WIC, you name it); some of our neighbors are on assistance now.

So, seriously, I know many of us including myself are in debt. And I know we need to do things to overhaul “the system” so that serving patients and saving lives is compensated in a common sense and equitable way. One that values innovative, smart approaches such as preventative care and comprehensive services. One that doesn’t cause very capable and compassionate students who are interested in our field to go running the other way as they eye the ever-mounting price tag. But even at the lowest-paying end of the spectrum, we all will make more money than the majority of our country. And if we help each other to become more business-savvy, we should never have to struggle to live well.

The medical student left smiling. I left more inspired. Hopefully we encouraged her to pursue what will ultimately make her the happiest so that she can bring her “best self” to work every day; she owes it to herself and to her patients. Yes, it’s a daunting task and the realities of practicing medicine in our country are scaring the crap out of many of us and our future colleagues, but again, we are still positioned in one of the best fields that exists. I am committed to reminding myself, my colleagues, and the “fresh meat” that this is the reality we find ourselves in. A bit daunting, but not too scary.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Guest post: I do not want to be a vacation parent.

I will preface this blog by saying that I feel very lucky to work at the academic medical centre where I landed right after residency.  I love my clinical work and my education leadership roles. Mostly, I have good support and reasonable bosses. I try to keep all these happy thoughts in mind as we go through the painful process of developing an accountability framework in my large department. Generally, I succeed. I am 100% in support of the major requirements, which boil down to: please do the work you’re paid to do, and provide the people who pay you with some evidence that you’ve been doing that. Sounds good.

At a recent meeting, though, a seemingly minor comment about a seemingly minor clause made me quite upset. In this agreement, a small amount of income will be “at risk” if a departmental member is not deemed to have participated in sufficient departmental activities. Fair enough. However, this requirement includes a certain percentage of rounds held early-ish in the morning (not surgeon-early, but early). The comment made was: “We tried to be sensitive to family needs when planning the timing of these rounds ….  But there are also __ weeks of vacation, of course.”

There was no discussion about this. Introvert that I am, I needed to process this. Weathered faculty member that I am, I knew to shut up while reacting emotionally, until I had time to process my thoughts. They’ve been processed. They’re still emotional. They follow.

I do not want to be a vacation parent.

My husband spends many more awake hours with our 5.5 year old son than I do. As a full-time student, his hours lend themselves to this - he picks the boy up from school and actively parents the kid for a few hours before supper.  I work hard to get home for 6:30 p.m. so we can eat together. I enjoy the 1.5 hours before bedtime where I’m in charge of glockenspiel practice, speaking French (a.k.a “homework”), and then we share bath/bedtime duties. In the morning, I am in charge of the Mandatory Morning Cuddle (there are far worse jobs), and then we have a typical “get everyone out of the door” scramble together. In there, I head off to work just as the boy leaves for the bus.

If you do the math, on weekdays I see my child awake for a grand total of about 2.5 hours daily, at most. When I’m on weekend call, I am at work for about another 4 hours both days, which is minor compared to many, but does mean I miss my share of skating and swimming lessons. Most weekends I work at home for at least a few hours, though I try to do these while he is asleep, but this isn’t always possible. I do not complain about these hours. Compared to many physicians, they’re light. They are what I signed up for, and I believe they are fair.

However, if I add in more morning rounds, I’m incrementally cutting into the time I parent the boy on a daily basis. On days where there are mandatory morning meetings, my son may not see me at all until 6:30 p.m., as I usually need to leave around the time he gets up. These are mostly ad hoc meetings, so I don’t complain (much). Twice weekly rounds start to add up quickly – two days a week of no Mom in the morning.

I do not want to be a vacation parent.

This is really the crux of what bothered me. How is it acceptable to declare “you get lots of vacation time” (for which I am grateful) as a rationale for “parents should have no excuse not to attend these rounds”? At what point is it appropriate to expect parents to not be present in the day-to-day lives of their children, for the sake of non-patient-care activities? I realize that there are many other very valid non-parenting reasons why this might be problematic, but this was a direct comment about parents not wanting to attend rounds at the hours chosen by the Department.

I do not want to be a vacation parent. I want to be present in the day-to-day mundane activities of my son’s life. Believe it or not, I want to be part of the mornings where he is grumpier than a bear, and he has a meltdown because his socks don’t match his jeans. I want to be there to help with the snowsuit battles. I want my mandatory morning cuddle, dammit. I want my son to go to bed at night and know that I will be there in the morning. We worked hard to achieve this balance, and it works for us - well, it works more often than not – what more can we ask for?

It is (almost) irrelevant that I don’t learn well in lecture-based rounds, and that I have to travel more to get to and from these rounds than most in that they are not held at my home hospital. It’s (almost) irrelevant that I participate in teaching activities significantly more than most of my colleagues, so my departmental contributions are considered to be quite high overall.

Clich├ęd as this might sound – it’s the principle of the thing. Going on vacations with my child is not the same as being there daily. I’m quite sure my kid would forfeit our family vacations in exchange for both his parents being present daily. I would. My bosses may have the right to require me to work different hours, but let’s not pretend that it’s not a problem for families because “there is vacation time”.

So, a portion of my income may well be at risk. Currently, I’ve decided they can keep that if they like. I will cope with the consequences of my dereliction, because I cannot put a price on my Mandatory Morning Cuddle.

I do not want to be a vacation parent.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Hope


Residency is tough.  I read posts from those of you still in the trenches and I can remember how overwhelmed I felt.  The schedule doesn’t allow adequate time for self or family.  Halfway through my intern year, our staff psychologist did a resident assessment and I remember writing that, while I was doing alright for now, the current level of activity was unsustainable in the long term.

To make matters worse, several of our attendings would often say helpful things like, “If you think this schedule is hard, wait until you’re an attending – it’s much worse.  AND there are no duty hour restrictions!”  I know I was not the only one wondering if the rest of my life was even going to be bearable.

Well, I have good news for all of you.  I have seen the future, and it is beautiful.

The first year and a half that I was an attending, I literally felt like I was on vacation.  I didn’t have to come in until 9 a.m.!  Five p.m. often meant I was leaving the office!  What, I’m off this weekend AGAIN?!   Also, I have time to work out, time to sleep, time to work on hobbies!

It’s true there are no duty hour restrictions for attendings, and every once in a while it’s an issue.  If I do a delivery at night, I still have to go to the office all the next day.  Some days are quite long, as I do take extra time to do the odd home visit, see some nursing home patients, and call patients personally with unexpected lab results.  I take my own call during the week, and do my own deliveries unless I'm out of town. 

The first weekend of call for our practice was fairly awful – in early to evaluate a sick patient, then rounding until afternoon, followed by pages every 15 minutes that made it impossible to catch a nap.  I remember thinking, “I can’t survive three days with no sleep!”  But the thing is, it’s always very temporary.  There is always a day off in my very near future.  I know I can catch up on sleep before I really develop a deficit.

I know every field is different, and there are docs around here that work every day until 8 p.m.  However, medicine has a lot of choices and I believe that if you try (and make it a priority) you can make some family-friendly ones.

- DoctorGrace

Monday, October 21, 2013

MiM Mail: How do you do it?

Hello Supermomdocs,

I stumbled across your blog when I was trying to decide if I made the wrong choice in choosing an internal medicine position over a dermatology one.  I think it's a fantastic site, by the way.

I'm Jenny, I'm a physician assistant, and currently mom to a furry 4-year-old, 70 lb. boy.  :)  At the time I chose my current internal medicine position, I was leaving a place where I was not treated very well, or respected at all.  So I went with the offer that I felt more at ease with as far as the people I'd be working with.  And so far, I must say, I love every aspect of my job except the work I didn't know I signed up for. 

My patient load here is a lot heavier than my old place, and I see more chronic illnesses than I did at the last place (I saw some follow-ups, mostly acute visits).  I find myself working late, bringing work home, and working on the weekends.  I am preparing to bring this up with my supervising doc, the owner of the practice, but I wanted some feedback from some women in the field, and I thought you all might be able to provide some insight.

The dermatologist doctor has also told me he was looking to hire a second mid-level provider come Spring.  I am tempted, for I feel that derm would not have as much "homework."  Am I wrong in thinking this?  I'd be taking a paycut and possibly vacation cut too, but at this point, I can't be leaving the office at 8 or 9 every day.  HOW DID YOU BUSY DOCTORS MAKE TIME TO MAKE BABIES?!  That is another thing on the horizon.  My husband and I would like to start a family, but we've refrained from "trying," for fear of stressing ourselves out.  So perhaps this is TMI, but we've opted to just try to increase frequency of intimacy instead of plotting calendars and such.  The problem with this-there is never any time!  I'm always working, we're always tired by the time the day is done. 

Internist(s), I feel like part of the issue with my current situation is that it's just the field of primary care.  There's always going to be a slew of labs to go through, and it's never ending.  The previous doctor I worked for never followed up on his labs for months, and then would just ambush them when he took a vacation, or was about to leave for vacation. 

I currently do not take a half day, but I'm thinking about asking for one, to work on labs (so technically I wouldn't be workingless).  I currently work over 60 hours a week. 

Any advice or input would be appreciated.  This is a struggle for me to find a balance between work and home life.  Is it something you still juggle?  Am I just complaining too much?

Thanks for hearing me out.  Again, I'm so glad to have found your site.  Great job!

Sincerely,
Jenny

Saturday, April 13, 2013

When shared parenting means you are no longer number one

Recently, my daughter went through a period of preferring my partner, her other parent. For about a week, I would come home from work, starved for time with her,  and she would run to my partner and make a big show of hugging her and demanding to go into the kitchen with her. At dinner time, she refused to be fed by me, accepting food only from my partner, her Baba. At bathtime, I would have to pry her from her Baba and endure her bitter tears as we trudged upstairs for what is usually our most joyful time together. I was on a particularly miserable month, working the longest days I've worked all year and feeling resentful, bitter, and guilty almost every waking moment because I was spending so little time with her. When this theater of cruel preference happened for the first time, I went upstairs, turned on the bathroom faucet, sat on the tile floor, and sobbed for fifteen mintues. Then I came downstairs and tried to be as cheerful as possible as I sat next to the high chair and watched dinner progress without my participation. The situation was no fun for my partner either, as my time at home is the rare window of relief when she can check her email and recede into her own mental world for a while. Only E seemed to be having a ball, cocking her head to one side and making flirty toddler eyes at my partner while pushing my hand away from the food on her tray.

A male colleague once complained to me that his son prefers his wife, even to the extent of screaming and pushing him away when he goes to to pick him up in the morning or comfort him at night. As he told me this, I'm ashamed to admit that I thought, "Well she is his mother," as if motherhood is synonymous with being a child's primary go-to, as if a father should be resigned to being second pick. Well, here I was faced with the same situation and I was not resigned. 

I am not my child's primary caregiver. As an intern, I work until 6pm on the best days which are few, 7pm on most days, and 9pm on the worst days which happen at least 1-2 times per week. I have a week each month where I am gone from 6pm - 9am six nights in a row. The rest of the time I leave the house before my child wakes up and then I do bath and bedtime whenever I can, which is 3-4 days per week. Every day I have off, every evening hour that can be squeezed from the stone, every hour I can delay going to sleep post call, I do, but it still doesn't add up to 50%. Not even close. So I am not my child's primary caregiver, but up until the aforementioned week, I was pretty sure I was her go-to, her first draft pick. After all, I carried her and birthed her and nursed her and I am the only one in this family who takes rectal temperatures, let the record show. Prior to this episode, she had always been pretty happy with either or both of us, absorbing the love and care and attention of whichever of us was available at the time, so the assumption I had made about my being somehow more sacred and important had never been tested.

It was not a pleasant situation. In fact "My child will prefer her other parent" is probably number 2 on my list of top fears about being a working mother, right after "My child will be maimed or die while in someone else's care." I googled "My child prefers her other parent" and discovered that this happens to lots of people. Some children prefer their working-outside-the-home parent to their working-in-the-home parent and for some it is the other way around. In families where both parents work, the preference cannot be so easily explained away. Sometimes the preference is temporary and sometimes it is more deeply ingrained. In families with multiple children, one child might prefer one parent while another child prefers the other parent. None of these preferences seem to fall easily along gender lines. It was comforting to read post after post about this problem, but none really addressed my fear which was that by working so much, I was losing the right to be my child's number one. (Of note, I encountered not one post from a man complaining about this. Do men just not post on online parenting forums? Is this something that does not disturb them? It's an interesting question.)

When I was forced to examine my need to be number one, I realized that the whole construct is flawed and not relevant to our family. I was our daughter's primary caregiver for the first six months while my partner finished graduate school, now she is the primary caregiver while I am in residency. We have divided the work of parenting in a way that feels natural to us and that has nothing to do with traditional divisions of labor. My partner cooks. I deal with illnesses and sleep. We both work and make money, though my job is currently more time-intensive and less flexible. I'm good at helping our daughter achieve developmental milestones, my partner is good at structuring her days and giving her the downtime she needs. My daughter has two parents who work cooperatively to meet her needs and I'm very proud of that.

I'm not going to pretend that this transition in my thinking has been seamless or complete. There are still moments of panic and jealousy that my partner is so much more present in my daughter's life, for now. Thankfully, the phase passed and my daughter is back to taking the love from wherever it cometh, but I can't deny that I am secretly pleased and relieved when she leaps ecstatically from my partner's arms to mine when I come home. But I am teaching myself to be just as happy when she leaps from me to my partner, because the net of safety and love that protects her is so much stronger than it would be if she were relying on only one person to meet her needs. If I weren't working so much, things might have played out very differently in the dynamics of our family, so in a way I'm glad that necessity has created the opportunity for a more shared model to evolve. Ok, I'm not glad. But I do think some good has come of it.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Awesomeness

Yesterday I worked with one of our part-time attendings.  She had two cases scheduled.  The first went smoothly.  It was a bit complex and atypical of an operation but it went well and the patient did well. The second case...different story.

Back story: This attending is a part time surgeon, an enigma that you hear about but never see.  She became part time after her second child was born and I've been told I should get to know her ever since my daughter was born.  Now, I've finally gotten the opportunity to work with her.  Mom surgeon mentors are still still nearly impossible to find, especially those that are relatable.  She is a regular person - her husband isn't independently wealthy, she doesn't have 4 live-in nannies and a stay at home dad, she is a regular person, awesome surgeon and a mom.  With a bit of timidity, I've had the occasional opportunity to pick her brain about her career choices when I've taken call with her and she's been an amazing resource.  I also know that she recognizes the career advancement sacrifices that come with her choice to work part time.  She seems a little frustrated by the trade-off but not at all regretful.  

Back to the present: Ok, second case, she decides to try out a different approach she read about to increase exposure.  Unfortunately the change in the approach makes some parts of the operation a lot more difficult.  However, we press on.  Then we hit a key part of the case where a structure needs to be identified to ensure that it isn't injured, and we just couldn't find it!  She called for back-up.  I hear her mutter under her breath: "Can I just get through one case without asking for help!"  One of the senior surgeons came in and helped out.  The remainder of the case proceeded with continual second guessing her every move - "does this look right" "I think I'll go here"  "do you think this looks okay?"  She was reduced to what I like to call 'resident uncertainty.'  We finally finished.  All went well, the patient was fine, the final result actually looked great but I could tell she was defeated. She apologized to me at the end of the case.

Its not uncommon that attendings help each other out and scrub together.  Its one of the things I like about the group of surgeons at this hospital.  I tried to tell her I thought the case was fine that no apologies were needed.  But, I could tell she was disappointed in herself.  I wanted her to know what a great teacher she is, what a great role model she is to her residents and her children.  I wanted to remind her of how her patients gush about how amazing she is.  This attending trained at my institution and I have literally NEVER met a single person - faculty, resident, nurse, administrative staff, who had anything but extremely positive comments about her skill and her judgement.  I wanted her to know that I have operated with senior surgeons who have come to work every day for the past 20 years and still occasionally need to call in back up.  When I think about the two cases we did that day, I think that there are two people that may no longer have cancer because of her.

I read an article recently about how motherhood completely and utterly changes your life.  No matter what you have invested in your career prior to having children, being a mom will profoundly change your career and who you are and every decision you make.  This is so true.  I feel like I'm struggling with it every day.  Fulfillment in two places, work and home, often at odds with each other.

As she walked out of the OR my attending told me that she was on call tomorrow night and that unfortunately I would be stuck with her again.

My response ..."It would be my pleasure"