September is Women in Medicine Month. As a woman in medicine who is also a mother, daughter, sister, friend, and wife of 20 years, I want to share reflections on my 30+ years in medicine and find the elusive “balance” we often talk about.
When I first became a doctor, I wasn’t sure what balance meant, but I was determined to have balance and not let anything get in the way. Over the years, the word balance was the heart of many conversations with other women in medicine and healthcare. Balance was always on my mind.
I navigated an internal medicine residency and chief residency, a new marriage, and a baby, believing I could keep everything in balance. However, when I established practices in new cities without an appropriate support system, it became clear that balance was more complicated than I had realized. Was it unattainable? I had friends navigating the same scenario of building a successful practice, becoming the mother and partner I could be.
Life happens, or so they say. As the mother of three small children with a busy practice, I realized it was up to me to define my success as a physician, mother, and friend. No one was going to do it for me, so I created a personal framework. The word balance took a back seat. Focusing on the future and the belief that I was empowered to make decisions for myself and my family, I took the time, space, and grace to consider the future.
The framework looked something like this:
- What matters most?
- No success compensates for failure at home.
- Will it matter in 5 years?
- Check in with my family before saying “yes” to additional work commitments
During the past 20 years, my husband, Duncan, and I adopted these principles as we blended our family of 5 children. But, I did not know that those principles set us up to withstand deep grief and celebrate unbelievable happiness.
We welcomed two grandbabies into the world in 2020. While walking with my son, Will, and grandson, Grayson, we talked about what raising a family was like for me (as a physician) and Duncan (as an attorney who traveled each week)—how we made decisions and navigated all the twists and turns life had in store for us. I shared our framework with him that day. And, I said that I had no regrets. I can look in the mirror and be proud of my family and my career.
My residency friend, Sue Stein, and I were talking about our careers and families recently. We realized in our conversation that balance looks different to us now that our children are grown, and we are deep in our careers.
When we returned from our walk, my son, Willi, looked me in the eyes and said, “You did a great job. Because of you, I am a confident, kind, and caring brother, son, husband, and father. You showed me with your actions how to work and have a family. I watched you manage with grace even though you faced many challenges.”
So, as women and men in medicine, I encourage you to define what matters most to you. Do it today. Don’t wait. While we may not be perfectly balanced, we’ll continue juggling to stay on our feet with optimism.