I just returned to my clinical rotations after completing my research years in the lab and having my first child. Before I left for the lab I was planning on a career in Cardiothoracic, Transplant or Vascular surgery. Now as a new mother, a lot of the attendings I work with have suggested I consider “lifestyle” specialties with more controlled hours. Am I being nearsighted in my specialty choices? I love being with my family, but I feel I have come too far to make career choices based primarily on “lifestyle”. However, I do not want to pick a specialty based on “ego” either. Part of me wants to prove everyone wrong — but will my children and family pay the price?
Dear Surg Mom,
There is no right time to have a child(ren). Regardless of when you choose to start a family, childbearing and childrearing poses challenges on your surgical career, regardless of specialty. We do not choose our surgical specialty based on lifestyle; we choose it because it resonates with our true self. This is where our passion lies, and this is our calling. Yes, things will need to be modified, adapted, and negotiated as we weave out a way through work-life “integration”. I had both of my children during training and today they are both in college. The lessons I have learned include: (1) for every “yes” you say to work or home, there is a “no” to the other; (2) needs / demands change over time as work / children evolve; (3) I will not be the best surgeon or the best mother, but wherever I am I give it 100%; and (4) quality time trumps quantity of time every day of the week.
Let me elaborate on these lessons. When children are small, they have little sense of time and can’t tell if you were gone one-hour or 14 hours. At this age, we self-inflict the guilt. Grade school is when they start to inflict the guilt. Missing school events because the school only gave a week notice; yet all the other “moms” were able to be there. Incomprehensible to your child, but this will pass and then comes the “a-ha” moment. The moment when they finally get what your work is all about. For example, one time I was just walking through the door after a long day and barely getting to hug them when my beeper summons me back to work. Instead of cries and complaints from my children, my oldest says “someone sick at the hospital, needing your help, Mom?” You reply “yes. I am really sorry but I have to go and won’t be able to hear about your day until tomorrow.” “It’s okay, Mom, because if I was sick, I would want someone as caring and smart as you coming in to take care of me.” In that brief moment, years of guilt was lifted off my shoulders and I realized quality of time spent with my children was more valuable than the amount of time, especially if that time was spent regretting a choice of specialty for lifestyle reasons. I, too, was recommended by many to reconsider my specialty for lifestyle reasons. If I settled for less than whom I am, then I would translate that message and feeling to my children. I didn’t want that. I wanted my children to dream big and accomplish all that they want. I see them doing just that in college; both are following their calling. Yes, there were rough times. I had to adapt and negotiate.
Time is our biggest commodity. When I became a single mom, I had to cut back on my physical time at work and do all the charting, billing, and research at home where my kids needed me to be. At the end of the day, I managed both and so can you! I may not be the best mom or the best surgeon, but I have two phenomenal children in college and a successful career by being true to myself.
Dr. Christine Laronga, MD, FACS
The Association of Women Surgeons (AWS) is excited to bring to you a resident and fellow focused blog titled, “Dear Pat”. “Dear Pat”answers questions about issues pertinent to surgical residents and fellows, such as navigating through residency, applying to fellowship, family planning, and handling difficult situations on the job. Questions may be submitted anonymously and will be answered by AWS council members. This monthly blog is published the fourth Sunday of each month. We want to hear from you, so if you are interested in submitting your anonymous question , use this link.
Christine Laronga is a Senior Member at Moffitt Cancer Center and a Professor of Surgery at the University of South Florida and specializes in disease of the breast. She joined the Association of Women Surgeons as a resident and has been an active member for over a decade. She is also the Immediate Past President. Follow her on Twitter @clarongamd.
Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.