Monday, February 4, 2008

More About Balancing Life and Medicine

Yet another comment has fueled some need to post within me. Essentially the comments from my last discourse were interesting. Receiving a hint of disdain for my belief that a medical career is just a...gasp... J.O.B. I wanted to touch a little more on what makes my day (and maybe not disdain, but a certain level of disbelief that a medical student didn’t want to put medicine first was clearly evident).

The other night I was in Daughter’s bedroom, reading a couple bedtime stories to her. While I was leaning against her bed reading, she lovingly placed her head on my shoulders, stroked my hair, and kissed me several times on the head. After I finished she rolled over and said sleepily: “I love you Daddy”. My heart melted.

This happens on a regular basis when I’m home. I have memories that make me smile, laugh, and occasionally make me sad. I relish them, but realize that almost all of them are from the 3rd and 4th years, where, after spending most of my time in the school studying during the first couple years, I decided that I needed to spend a lot more time at home. I’ve done well throughout, but I certainly have more fond recollections of my times at home than freaking out over some quiz or test.

Now this being said, let me explain that at the same time I have always been committed to the patients I’ve worked with. I read a lot at home, about diagnoses and treatment plans that related to diseases I’ve seen or will see the next day, and never abandoned my duties in order to get home sooner. However, I do not have a great deal of memories from the hospital that would make me want to replace anytime spent with the wife and kids. I’m sorry, but patients just don’t fill a need in me the way my family does.

Other physicians and medical students may find that they have no better times than being in the hospital. While I applaud them and thank them for their dedication, I feel sorry for those who sacrifice their family life in order to obtain this satisfaction. I won’t state that I feel certain careers shouldn’t have families involved, but I think they’re more apt to be strained and the relationships more miserable regardless of the persona involved. I didn’t want that…that’s where my decision came into place that ultimately steered me away from a surgical career and into the anesthesia field. Others may decide that medicine is their priority and they’ll sacrifice everything else towards that end. So be it.

Yet, despite my understanding that some people love being at work, I find the most pleasure, solace, and love when I’m home, not amongst the sick. My favorite place in the world is not in the hospital, that in and of itself is proof enough that a career as a surgeon should not be attempted, but with my family. A quote I heard during interviews described my situation perfectly:

“If your favorite place in the hospital is the OR, then anesthesia is the right path for you; if your favorite place in the world is the OR, then be a surgeon.”


Mel said...

A thought provoking post.

There was no disdain intended in any previous comments I made, though in retrospect I can understand why it could have been perceived as such.

The need to make a distinction between one's professional and personal life is one that I've never wished to make. As such, "sacrifice" is a loaded term in my dictionary and thus I avoid it on principle as I believe it indoctrinates people to accept forfeiture. On a more intimate level, I feel that the term is unsuitable for those that wholeheartedly live and breathe their "jobs".

That being said, I'm not implying that physicians who do make a "healthy" distinction are of any lesser or different a calibre than those that choose not to (or, more commonly, fail to do so).

There is a difference between dedication and passion and I believe the latter is what would prevent me from trying to juggle a picture-perfect nuclear family with a career in surgery.

Happiness comes in many forms. Who's to judge which is the more righteous, the more noble?

Old MD Girl said...

I can't believe you even went here. The idea that you need a work life balance -- or that one might (shock and horror!) have an interest outside of medicine -- is so obvious to me, it almost seems not worth dignifying with a response. This isn't a women's lib issue. It's a get a life issue.

Doc's Girl said...


I guess I'm with the only surgeon in the world who really, really, really wants to be home with his family (and future kids) a heck of a lot more than he is in the hospital...or the OR for that matter. (These are his own words, not mine.) In fact, this desire had a lot to do with what specific field he has decided on doing (less pay but better hours).

I don't think it's a matter of what field of medicine you choose to practice or how much money you want to make, etc., it's really about how important the idea of family and having a life is to that individual.

I think you made a good point of expressing that you want to spend time with your family and you value the moments you have with them. However, I wouldn't put all surgeons into one big group and say that they choose to do what they do because they want to sacrafice their own personal life.

One random person in our life even had the audacity to call my partner lazy (someone who obviously never went to medical school) for his decision to not pursue a career in a more popular area of orthopedics (where a higher income is likely) rather than what he chose.

My partner looked this person right in the eye and said, "it's not worth an extra $100,000 for me not to be there with my family."

MSG, I applaud your decision but please be nice to the surgeons. :-P You guys have all gone through a lot to get where you are.

MSG said...


I wasn't trying to be mean to the surgeons, I was merely making a point towards *my* perceptions of the surgical field. I know there are surgeons who try to be there for their families, but there are a great deal more whose wives or husbands do everything for them and they barely see their family. Dr. Schwab once wrote that he regretted some of the time that he spent in the hospital, based on his unconscious need to be at the hospital constantly, and the diminished relationship he had with his children.

It sounds like you're guy has his priorities pretty straight, but I find that kinda rare.


I felt like going there since I wanted to post something about balance between life and medicine anyway. I didn't feel the need to explain myself to a recent high school grad, I already had this post formulating in my brain.

Liana said...

"Other physicians and medical students may find that they have no better times than being in the hospital. While I applaud them and thank them for their dedication, I feel sorry for those who sacrifice their family life in order to obtain this satisfaction."

I think you hit the nail on the head with this, MSG. It's not a sacrifice if it's something you freely and openly choose. That being said, most of the docs I see in the hospital who never go home are usually the unhappiest people I know, often because they're using work to escape something.

Anyway, enough on my part.

Jessica said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

“If your favorite place in the hospital is the OR, then anesthesia is the right path for you; if your favorite place in the world is the OR, then be a surgeon.”

I'm a fellow anesthesia applicant, and actually have never heard of that quote/statement, but after reading it, it makes soooo much sense! Totally agree when I think about it. The OR is my favorite place in the hospital, just not the world. Kudos!

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