This physician delayed residency to take paternity leave

“Daddy, time to wake up! It is morning time!”

I open my eyes to our four-year-old daughter at the foot of the bed smiling, her hair meticulously braided. I get up and wake her younger brother from his crib and carry him downstairs. The baby is still sleeping. Soon come shouts of “coffee!” as we enter the kitchen — they know my routine well. After breakfast, we all get dressed, I pack my daughter’s lunch, and the three of us suit up for the trek to the bus stop. March 2 marks one year since CaRMS Match Day, and rather than being on call or spending time in clinic, I’m on paternity leave.

On Match Day, I was at home playing with the kids and dancing to nursery rhyme songs. Partway through changing a diaper, my phone vibrated with a text from a classmate asking where I had matched. I hadn’t realized results were posted. I checked and saw that I matched to one of my top sites for family medicine, a specialty that would give me the flexibility to continue my involvement in the arts and in my children’s lives. I quickly replied to the text and then returned to dancing.

The last year has been busy. The summer was spent searching for a new home, moving, and welcoming another son in July. With three young children at home, I delayed starting residency until August.

I began residency with four blocks of family medicine and was assigned to a busy group practice. Along with walk-in clinics and scheduled appointments, the office also did minor procedures, and occasional house calls. I quickly connected with my preceptors and the staff, over time gaining their trust. On my second day, I drove to a patient’s home with a nurse after a patient didn’t answer their phone following a new critically low hemoglobin on their bloodwork. Not all days were so exciting, but even an appointment for a cough would often develop into a discussion about financial struggles or reveal caretaker burnout. I enjoyed my time in clinic and having greater responsibility as a resident. I listened, often made patients smile or laugh, and on occasion held a hand or offered a hug.

Along with learning to care for others during medical school, I found a voice as a writer. Over time I started sharing stories, articles, and poetry with others about medical culture, experiences of illness, and more. I was encouraged when my site director approached at a welcome event and began discussing my writing and continued involvement in the humanities during residency. With the support of my program, I attended the tenth annual The Examined Life Conference at the University of Iowa last fall, where I learned and connected with others interested in medicine and the arts. Recently, I joined the staff of the Canadian Medical Association Journal as their humanities intern and have developed an interest in the ability of using graphic medicine to communicate experiences of illness. I am excited to continue and deepen my involvement in the humanities during my medical career.

I tried over the four years of medical school to balance my home life with my training, but still, I missed a lot. Our oldest was born as I started my training, a busy time of transition to a new province. Luckily, I witnessed our second child’s first steps, occurring the day after I returned from my residency interview tour. With the most recent addition, I found that finding a balance was even more difficult. After the birth of a child, residents have a one-year window to take leave. As I worked in clinic, I started to consider this opportunity. I knew that I wouldn’t again have the chance for dedicated time with my family without the constant trickle of lab results into my inbox in addition to other professional obligations. I also knew that it would mean finishing residency later than I intended, but family comes first.

When I first brought up the option to my preceptor, I wasn’t sure what to expect. A part of me anticipated a negative reaction based on attitudes I’d come expect in medicine, ones where staying after a call shift was a given and taking time off for illness was frowned upon. Instead, I found solid support from my preceptor, my program, and my mentors. In some cases, my choice was met with admiration and the wish that they had the option when their children were young. After winter break, I had enough hours to qualify for unemployment benefits, and since early January, I’ve been on leave continuing through July.

In my career, I want to work in the service of others, embrace the intersection of medicine and the arts, while being present as a loving husband and father. This last year I’ve made decisions embracing these goals, from my specialty choice to deepening involvement in the humanities and taking leave. I know medicine is waiting for me come August. For now, I’m enjoying time at playgroups, parks, planning family activities with my wife, and hearing about my daughter’s new friends and what she’s learned each day after school.

Kevin Dueck is a family medicine resident who blogs at Aboot Medicine and can be reached on Twitter @abootmedicine. This article originally appeared in in-House.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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