By Chris Hardesty
The worst moment in 2015 was the morning my 2 year old started crying when he realized I was leaving for work. I’d heard this would happen and expected it, but the pit in my stomach was worse than I anticipated, the temptation to stay home tugged like a wave pulling me under the water, and I matched his tears when I got into my Jeep. It sucked. I rationalized I was going to an important job helping other kids, that Jack would be over it quickly, and that millions of other moms/kids had been through this. But it still sucked.
“Work-life balance” is that overly used term for the elusive perfect schedule. It has been touted as something we should all work for, but I have yet to meet anyone – male or female – who has achieved it. My first goal in writing this is to tell you to abandon the idea that we can ever actually get there. Pretending it is a goal that can actually be achieved only serves to frustrate you when you never achieve it – especially if you’re a surgeon (an overachiever). My second goal is to give you both philosophical and practical tips to help you work toward finding an acceptable amount of happiness in how YOU live your life.
Philosophically: Decide what you want your life to be like in and outside of medicine. Do you want kids? Does your partner? Do you want to work full time or part time? Is it important that you are a frequent contributor to your community or could you be happy not being involved in the PTA/church groups/social organizations? How important is an academic career (national committees and presentations) to you?
Practically: Having an understanding partner is crucial – my husband is a saint for what he allows me to do, but I recognize this and I recognize HIM for it. The number one most important thing in our life is a shared calendar. My husband and I put anything important to us on this calendar as soon as we are aware of it. Call nights, his soccer games, any trips, dinner meetings, kid appointments, etc get blocked out so we can plan appropriately. This includes figuring out when I might need to cancel a clinic so I can be somewhere. The earlier I know, the better chance I have of making it to important non-medical events.
The next most important thing is to realize that this is 2016 and we don’t live in an old-school world. I have given lectures with my son in a baby carrier, he rounds with me on weekends, and I have the ability to complete and sign charts from home. I do not have to separate my home and work worlds the way my older colleagues did. Even the time in the car, as Jack and I drive to and from the hospital, is worthwhile.
My next best piece of advice is to say yes to things that will help your career or your patients, but no to things that will only suck up your time. Lots of people will want things from you, but they are not all necessary. Finally, let go of the feeling that you are a bad person if you don’t do everything yourself. I felt ridiculous hiring a house cleaner (snobby, even) but I value my time with Jack more than I value the money I spend every two weeks. I order my groceries online and pick them up at the store. I have a nurse to deal with prescriptions, phone call returning, and filling out paperwork.
In reality, there will be times when your patients’ needs come first. That’s the nature of being a surgeon. Understanding this and helping your family understand it will decrease (but probably not eliminate) tears shed by you and your family.
Christina K. Hardesty, MD, is a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. She is Assistant Professor of Orthopaedics and Adjunct Professor of Pediatrics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. Her special interests include cerebral palsy, scoliosis and spinal deformity correction, neuromuscular disorders, pediatric sports injuries, spasticity and spina bifida.
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