Is it possible to have it all? Can you have a job that you love, helping people and using your brain and hands all at the same time; plus, a family, with a spouse and children, that you are always there for? Is it possible to have a balance between your work and your family live while working as a medical practitioner?
I would argue, it depends. About 15 years ago, I was a paramedic, bringing patients to the local emergency room. It was there that I met physician assistants and later decided to change my career. I also started to get to know my ER medical director, who told me that she chose medicine over family. She felt that she had to make a choice between the two and couldn’t be a good ER physician and a good mother. That is partly why I chose the route of PA vs. MD. I figured PAs were more likely to have a good family-life balance. I knew someday I would meet my wife and settle down. I wanted children … eventually.
Today, I am a family man. I have a beautiful wife and three amazing kids. I recently switched from critical care to family medicine for a more family-friendly work-life balance. My wife is a dermatology PA and works Monday through Thursday. Banking hours. The last ten years or so have been quite a challenge since I was working nights, and my wife was working days. There were times that I didn’t see my family for 4 to 5 days in a row. As our family grew over the years, so did the strain that the shift work had on our family.
I chose to work in hospital medicine, emergency medicine, and critical care. In the Dallas, TX area, most of those jobs were only at night for physician assistants. In this area of the country, PAs usually work for physician’s groups and are employed as a group, through a contract with the hospital. As a result, we often get the shifts that no one else wants, at least in these particular areas of medicine.
My passion truly is working in critical care. There is no bigger thrill than someone literally dying in front of you, and hours or days later, they are significantly better and on the road to recovery. Their life is in your hands, and your knowledge, skills, and quick action make the difference in them living or dying. But in 2018, this line of work came to a tipping point; my third child.
Prior to my number three, I was often working a second or third job on my off days, at least until I got burned out. My wife and I have six-figure debts from grad school, similar to physicians, and I hate debt. After our third child was born and my oldest was going to kindergarten, my wife I and I decided that I should cut out the extra jobs so I could pick up my son from school every day and get dinner ready, oftentimes before I went to work all night. This led to a lack of sleep during the day and a more irritable and stressful dad. This was also just before I turned 40, and my body just didn’t recover like it used to. I was overworked and not appreciating my family anymore.
Of course, everyone’s situation is different. Many of my physician colleges are married with children. Some are fortunate to have the ability for their spouses to be stay-at-home parents. Many of them are married to a doctor as well. With both parents working, someone’s career is going to be limited. Can you be a super parent and a super practitioner? It is possible to work 8 to 12 hours per day and be at all your kids’ baseball games, to then help them with homework when you get home, all while eating a home-cooked meal with the family? Every weeknight?
There is no easy answer. Our hospitals have to be staffed 24/7. Someone has to be on call for each of the body systems. Our patients matter, but at what cost to our families? Maybe the answer is more practitioners and sharing of the worst shifts. Maybe we should consider earning less money for a better work-family life balance. All I know is that I chose my family over a work that I was truly passionate about. It was the hardest decision of my life, but when I look back in 20 years, I know I won’t regret it.
James A. Quinn is a physician assistant.
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