Culture clash – doctoring vs family life

I was asked to write a guest post on the site for Hollee Temple’s new book Good Enough is The New Perfect. It was a good reminder for me about making sure I’m living my priorities, so I’m cross-posting it here. What do you do to make sure your life reflects your priorities?

Have you ever asked someone for a recommendation to a doctor? Would you have been inspired to make an appointment if they told you, “Yeah, my doc is good enough, you should see her!”? The culture of medicine and medical training does not lend itself to the ethic of “good enough.”

In medical school we were offered “role models” for our noble work. Some are from history, like Sir William Osler. He has often been called “The Father of Modern Medicine.” His strongest message to physician trainees was that we should never be emotionally engaged in any event; in fact his motto “Imperturbability” is still printed on the resident uniforms at Johns Hopkins. The story that stuck with me about Sir Osler is that he was so dedicated that he missed his son’s funeral (in the same city) to finish work in his office. Can you say “issues?”

The Women in Medicine Group at my med school and my husband’s often sponsored lunch time lectures from physicians to talk about work-life balance. I went to at least a dozen of these talks looking for inspiration. The take home point at each was the same: Career, marriage, kids. Pick two.

When my husband and I married we were both in medical school. We were determined to find a different path, but the first six years of our marriage, one or the other of us was in residency. Let me tell you, residency and balance? Not so much. However, we had a goal. After we finished training, we were going to take back the reins of control and live our priorities.

At first all went according to plan. I finished first and found a job about 45 miles from home as a family doctor that allowed me to work 3 days a week, with call (being available by phone and seeing patients daily in the hospital) 2 days a week and every other weekend. We moved closer (240 miles closer!) to my awesome mother-in-law, who watched our 15 mo old son one day a week, and he went to a long day of daycare, but only 2 days each week. So we were getting there.

Three years later my husband was a few months from finishing his emergency medicine residency and looking for work. That is when we ran into our first non-financial obstacle. He had interview after interview and they all said the same thing. “Any guy who wants to work part time must not be serious about being a physician.” His answer? “Not true. But my first priority is raising my sons.”

By this point I was also getting pressure from my boss (himself a father of 7 whose daughter once pointed at their local hospital from the car and said, “That’s where Daddy lives!”) to work more hours, take my career more “seriously,” while I wanted to work even less. I admit, I was worried. How could I be a great doctor, keep saving lives and helping people, if I didn’t give it my all.

But we stuck with the plan. I got a great job closer to home, and a fixed schedule 50% time (though I’m still on call all week every other week). And he got a job working 60% time and a provision in his contract that he never works the days that I have office hours. We still count on my awesome mother-in-law once a week for help. Now we have 4 sons, ages 9, 6 ½, 4 ½ and 2 ½, and no day care.

It was my husband who crystallized the answer. Doctors do have to give their all to patients, but do NOT have to give all their time. So he and I each work hard with focus and dedication (just like those role models) with our patients. In fact, as a mom, I am MORE able to give my complete focus to my patients knowing that they are home with their Dad while I’m at work. It’s a culture clash for a lot of our colleagues, but it works for our family. And that puts the “perfect” in our good enough.

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1 thought on “Culture clash – doctoring vs family life”

  1. And that, for every disbeliever, is fact. These are two superb doctors and super parents. Is everything always perfect? Of course not, but what in life is. They just provide an exceptional example of how you can balance career, marriage, and kids while keeping your sanity and doing what is right for all three.

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