Finding the Holy Grail of Work/Life Balance

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PMY 516: Finding the Holy Grail of Work/Life Balance

Session 516

Heart failure specialist and cardio oncologist Dr. Michelle Bloom and I discuss balancing work/life responsibilities as a doctor and parent. Follow her on Twitter at @drmishbloom. For more podcast resources to help you with your medical school journey and beyond, check out Meded Media.

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

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[02:54] Her Interest to Become a Physician

Michelle thought she wanted to be an anesthesiologist. In her third grade, they were told to make a poster on Career Day and she cut out all the letters for a-n-e-s-t-h-e-s-i-o-l-o-g-i-s-t.

Although she went through multiple iterations of the specialty, Michelle always knew she wanted to go into medicine and be a doctor. It just took a while for her to figure out exactly what within medicine she wanted to do.

[05:02] Being a Woman in Medicine

Nobody’s perfect at anything that they do. And if you think you’re going to be perfect, you’re never going to succeed. There should be no glass ceiling.

'There should be no reason why anybody – men or women – shouldn't pursue their dreams and their career goals just because your goal is also to have a family.'Click To Tweet

Today, women have tremendous resources. You can hop onto Facebook or some other group on social media, and you realize you’re not the only one. We all figure it out. And we all live our lives, and we’re the best doctors we can be. And we’re trying to be the best moms we can be. And so, it’s nice now to feel like you’re not alone.

[07:07] Work-Life Balance?

Michelle thinks that work-life balance is a term wherein everybody says it. But nobody really knows what it means and no one really knows if it exists.

A lot of people feel like they have to carry the weight of everything. But in order to be even remotely successful at this thing called work-life balance, you have to realize that you have to have a village. Maybe it’s your spouse who splits the responsibilities with you around the house. Or maybe even your friends and colleagues you’re surrounding yourself with who not only understand you but just support you blindly. No questions asked. They will be there in a pinch and they will get your kid off a bus if you’re late getting home.

“You have to surround yourself with people that can support you and help you and be there when you can't.”Click To Tweet

A lot of us in medicine, whether women or men, are Type A perfectionists who feel like we should be able to do everything. But we have to realize that we have to relinquish some of that responsibility. We can’t be everywhere at the same time and we have to rely on people that we trust. So we can do our best and become the best version of ourselves both at work and at home.

[12:57] Working Around Our Societal Norms

As far as societal norms, there are still barriers that we’re constantly feeling like we have to prove ourselves and overcome. Even if that doesn’t change, Michelle says we’ve got to learn how to work around it.

Pursuing your passions

Michelle adds that a woman can and should do whatever she wants because whatever you’re passionate about, you’re going to be amazing at. And if you can find joy in what you do, no matter what it is, that’s the key.

She hates to think that there’s a glass ceiling and that women can’t pursue their dreams. Or she couldn’t go into this career because of some societal norm that really shouldn’t even exist at all. It shouldn’t even be an issue.

'If you can find joy in what you do, no matter what it is, that's the key.'Click To Tweet

To some extent, you have to find a place where you feel comfortable. There are still some places where it’s very male-dominated and maybe a woman wouldn’t feel as comfortable. But that’s getting better over time as well. You just have to seek out a place where you are going to feel most comfortable.

Do women make better physicians than men?

Historically, once women get a foothold into specific careers, the men run away. It happened in vet medicine and nursing. It’s happening in medicine right now, where we’re seeing the majority of matriculants into medical school who are women now. And those numbers are growing pretty quickly.

There’s data that supports that women physicians take better care of their patients. This goes back to societal norms in that the motherly instinct is to take care of people. And so, it’d be very interesting to see in 15 or 20 years, what the makeup of the workforce is. Then these conversations won’t even need to happen because the majority of the workforce is going to be women. People who are going into medicine have to be committed because it’s not the most glamorous thing to do.

The Power of Support

Michelle says it all comes down to communication and mutual respect. Most women are doing their training in their 20s and 30s so you’re doing your training in the childbearing years. So you don’t really want to wait until after your training to start your family.

“To have a significant other who is supportive… and who really believes in you as a person and as a physician is a key to success.”Click To Tweet

[25:06] Carving Out Time for Your Family

'A career as a doctor can look any way you want it to look.'Click To Tweet

Michelle advises students to always remember that they can carve out what you feel is going to work for them. If your institution doesn’t support it, you’ll find somewhere that does. Your career can be whatever you want it to be. In fact, it’s getting better to do that now than it was a while ago. But you’re still going to miss stuff. And it’s okay.

There’s always going to be stuff that you miss, and you’re always going to feel bad about it. But at the end of the day, what’s important is that your kids get it. 

You’ve got to make some sacrifices and adjustments to make it work. If you’re still starting out, this is going to be hard. Everybody is on a level playing field and you haven’t really established yourself yet. And so, it’s a lot easier to be more intentional and mindful about it when you’ve had some years under your belt. You’ve hit the ground running already.

That being said, Michelle says that in the early years and the later years, you should always do personal introspection. Figure out if what you’re doing is what you want to do. See if you’re doing it the way you want to be doing it, and you see yourself doing it.

It’s also important to recognize that in some capacities in medicine, you have to earn that. You have to do your time like anyone else. And then once you’ve done that, you can take a step back and pivot a little bit. Ultimately, Michelle says it’s not something that is a given, and to some extent, it needs to be earned. There are certain things you need to do for yourself in order to make this a long-term thing that you’re not going to burn out from.

[34:23] Hours in Residency

Michelle thinks the mentality of people that are doing their training now is so different. As a group of people, we were so ingrained to be such hard workers and to put up with all of this adversity.

But part of her is also worried that it’s almost like the pendulum has shifted too far. Somehow, we have to strike a balance between the two and she feels there’s got to be an in-between.

[36:49] Having Babies in Training is the Perfect Time

Michelle had three babies in several years, one in residency, and the second one when she was an advanced heart failure fellow. Then the third was when she was a relatively new attending. In all three times, she barely had any time off.

When she was doing her training, she really didn’t have a choice. She had five or six weeks off, and then she was back. It was so hard. She doesn’t wish that on anyone. But that was how it was. Even with her little one, she could have taken off longer, but she felt guilty about taking off longer so she went back.

The time off depends on the specialty and the program. Other countries do it much better than we do in terms of extended leave and having the whole community help you take care of a baby.

The Phases of Our Kids’ Lives

Although Michelle feels that it’s more important to have more time with them when they’re older. When they’re very little, it’s hard for you mentally to recover and to go back. But they don’t know that. Because as they get older, they care more.

'I wish it were easier for all of us because then we would get amazing people going into medicine and staying in medicine.'Click To Tweet

In fact, a neurosurgeon once said that having a baby in training is a perfect time. Because then you’re busy working, they’re busy sleeping, and someone can feed them a bottle and change their diaper. They don’t need you. It’s when they come home from school as four-year-olds and they’re starting to have questions about life. That is when they need you and that just makes so much sense.

Ultimately, just because you’re getting into medicine doesn’t mean your life has to stop. It’s hard, but it doesn’t stop. You don’t want to take a step back from one thing to pursue the other, you should be able to do both. And if anyone tells you not to, or that you can’t, then you’re not talking to the right people.

[41:47] Final Words of Wisdom

You could not have picked a more meaningful career. Michelle still believes this is the most rewarding career on the planet. You’re going to make sacrifices. Everybody has to make sacrifices. Sometimes you’re not going to be the perfect parent and sometimes, you’re not going to be the perfect doctor. But once you realize that it’s okay and you have your support system around you, that’s all you really need.

'You can craft your career to be whatever you want it to be. But at the end of the day, you did right by picking this field.'Click To Tweet


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Twitter: @drmishbloom