I remember one sunny day in Chicago, in June 2011, when my husband and I packed up our two young children, aged 2 and 5 months. Professional movers had collected our belongings and had driven off a day prior. We were headed out of state, to my first job at an academic hospital. It had been a rather hectic few months for me, having just had a baby 5 months prior. Even as I recovered from delivery and bonded with my newborn, with a toddler in tow, I had to arrange interviews and polish up a presentation of my research work, the so-called “academic job talk.”
I was thrilled when a job offer followed. It was just perfect. I would have a chance to see patients, teach medical students, and also perform clinical research. There were many potential research collaborators. The future was bright, and I could not wait to get my family situated, make new friends, explore local attractions, and have a great time overall.
Every year, around June especially, many young physician moms find themselves in a similar situation. If I could turn back the clock and speak to my younger self, in the months leading up to that glorious summer in 2011, this is what I would have said:
You are important and much needed. Yes even you, a working physician mom, are much needed. As you tackle parenting and family life as a doctor, do not ever dare to think that you are less important or less dedicated. Your very presence in medicine is a source of inspiration and encouragement to thousands of young girls and women, hoping one day to follow in your path, but also hoping to raise children and have a family life.
Do not be a slave to your EMR. Is it ever possible to be done with your work, every single day? Perhaps, but many aspects of your life and your health will suffer if you try to accomplish it all, if you become a slave to EMR. Remember that EMR is not the biggest safety measure for our patients. Think of the lab tech who calls after hours with a critical result, the pharmacist who calls to check on a potential drug interaction, the radiologist who calls with a critical imaging result, the bedside nurse who calls to tell you that she feels an inpatient is not doing well — those are the biggest safety measures we have always had in medicine. Definitely, try and stay on top of your work. However, rather than aspire to have that EMR in-basket cleared every night, aspire to look through critical issues then make it to bed at a certain time. Remember that you’ll have a chance to tackle other issues tomorrow. Sleep is actually rather important.
Learn to negotiate. It has been reported that female physicians earn less than male physicians. At least some of this may have to do with our tendency to be poorer negotiators. You want to be compensated fairly for your work. Ask people and read books about this if you need to. Some are lucky and stay in their first job positions long-term but most of us will change positions a few times, or may have to ask for contract changes in the same place. This is an indispensable skill.
Medicine is very rewarding but burnout is real, and you will be at risk. I do not mean to imply that you will suffer burnout. Rather, I emphasize that you have to make a conscious effort to prevent burnout. You want to work on work-life balance, right from the get go. You want to always prioritize lifestyle preferences. You want to schedule time for activities outside of work that help you to stay sane and healthy.
Do not forget your interests and friends outside of medicine. Take time to nurture and develop your hobbies and interests. Make out time to spend time with your friends and acquaintances. They will help you to remember what really matters, and will often give you a useful non-medical perspective.
For those heading to their first job after residency or fellowship, congratulations! It’s time to celebrate, but remember the points above. You will be better informed and more equipped to tackle the years ahead.
Uchenna O. Njiaju is a hematologist-oncologist who blogs at Erica Oncology MD. She can be reached on Twitter @ericaoncmd.
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