Oct 2001 Table of Contents

BALANCING ACT

Reflections From a Family Physician’s Daughter



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If you’ve ever wondered how your dedication to your profession affects your children’s lives, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Fam Pract Manag. 2001 Oct;8(9):62.

As the daughter of a family doctor and as the patient of a family doctor, I understand better than most how difficult it is for a doctor to balance the needs of patients with the needs of family. Granted, it is not always easy to be the child of a busy parent, but there is something very special about being the child of a family doctor. My life is enriched by living in a family that cares so much, and so well, for others.

Lasting value

Being the child of a family physician has taught me that happiness comes from more than making money, taking fancy vacations and owning the latest sport utility vehicle. By choosing a career like family medicine, parents teach their children that a job is more than a way to make money; it is a way to give meaning to one’s life by helping others. This is an invaluable lesson.

There were times when my dad was away or when he was tired from a night on call. But I knew back then, as I do today, that what he was doing was important. I remember one Christmas in particular. Because my dad was scheduled for call on Christmas day, we celebrated early. My sister and I awoke on the 24th to find presents and a note from Santa saying that since there were so many children in the world he could not deliver all the presents in just one night. I knew the next night when Dad was at work that there was more to Santa’s story than the note said. Yet I didn’t resent his absence because I knew he was doing for others what he had always done for me – being there to offer comfort and care.

I remember going to the grocery store or the mall as a young child and being overwhelmed by the countless faces. My father would inevitably run into a patient and they would often stop and chat – catching up on family news, checking progress on a recent problem or trading notes on a common interest. At age five, I found it difficult to stop and wait, but today I realize those experiences gave me a sense of purpose and a sense of community. These moments when countless faces turned into real and valued people made even our big city feel like a village. In those moments I knew that I was more than just my parents’ child: I was a member of a community where people cared for, and about, each other. These feelings fostered within me a sense of belonging, a sense of place and a sense of purpose.

What matters most

Parents find their greatest fulfillment in the relationships they build with their children. Family doctors, like my father, find their greatest satisfaction in the relationships they build with their patients. At our house, dinner conversations often revolved around babies being delivered and grandparents being put to rest. Those conversations really put life in perspective – even for an eight-year-old obsessed with My Little Ponies. I learned early on that it is the connections in life that matter – holding the little hand at the skating rink or the wrinkled hand at the bedside.

In the end, money and cars matter little. My roots in family medicine have nourished my sense of personal responsibility and community involvement. The wings of science and service have lifted my belief that a career can be both meaningful and joyful. Family medicine has helped me learn that life, time and place are all intertwined and that each one of us can make a difference.

Kathryn Phillips is a senior at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Ore. She recently returned from Kuala Lumpur, where she volunteered at a domestic violence shelter and advocacy center for women. When her father, William R. Phillips, MD, MPH, was honored as the 1999 Family Doctor of the Year by the Washington Academy of Family Physicians, Kathryn spoke extemporaneously at the awards presentation about what being the child of a family physician meant to her. This article is based on her remarks.

Send comments to fpmedit@aafp.org.


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