Doctors need to place their families first

Several years ago I wrote an article for physicians on the topic of balance, and one of the suggestions was to place family first.  There are two stories that I have learned since the publication of that article that I would like to pass along.

Balance in a doctor’s life is best achieved if there is balance between family and work.  One of the best suggestions is to place family first.  When your family is first, you are not distracted at work worrying about something at home and have the ability to focus on your work and caring for patients.

It was the August 31, 2005 and Tom Brokaw and  had retired a few months earlier as anchor of the NBC Nightly News program which he held for 22 years.   He was on his ranch in Montana when he received a call from the producer at NBC asking him to take a special assignment and cover the devastation in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  The assignment would require Mr. Brokaw to come immediately to New Orleans.  Mr. Brokaw said that he would like one evening to think over the request and would decide by early morning.  After the phone call, he was saying good night to his granddaughter who was visiting from the east and she asked her grandpa if he would go horseback riding in the morning.  That request by his granddaughter made the decision easy for Tom Brokaw.  He called NBC and politely turned down the invitation to go to New Orleans to cover the recovery from the hurricane.

A more current story of balance involves golfer, Hunter Mahan.  He was playing in the 2013 Canadian Open and was leading the filed by two strokes half way through the 72 hole tournament.  He received a call that his wife was going into labor with their first child.  Mr. Mahan dropped out of the tournament, with a first place prize of $1m, and immediately left for Dallas, Texas where he was able to be present for the birth of his baby daughter.

These are two examples of professionals who place their family first.  The opportunity to go horseback riding with a grandchild may never come again.  Certainly there certainly will be stories and disasters in the future that Mr. Brokaw will be able to cover.

The same with Mr. Mahan: there will always be another opportunity to play golf in a tournament worth as much or more than the Canadian open, but the opportunity to be there for the birth of your first child is once in a lifetime.

Both men made the right decision.  Both men have set an example for physicians.  Of course, we must provide medical care in an emergency for a patient.  But we can say no to participating in committees, conferences where are our participation is not necessary, speaking engagements that can be done by someone else, and other detractors that take us off focus and rob us of our time with our families.

Rabbi Harold Kushner said it so well in his book, When Bad Things Happen To Good People, “I never met a man (doctor*) on his/her death bed who said ‘I wish I would have spent one more day at the office (or seen one more patient*).’”

* Italicized additions are my own.

Neil Baum is a urologist at Touro Infirmary and author of Marketing Your Clinical Practices: Ethically, Effectively, Economically. He can be reached at his self-titled site, Neil Baum, MDor on Facebook and Twitter.

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