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Thursday Feb 13, 2014

Finding Balance at Home, Practice Makes it All Worth the Effort

At the end of last school year, my son's first-grade teacher asked each child in the class what they wanted to be when they grow up. Then she took a photo of each student holding a small chalkboard with his or her answer written on it.

My son's chalkboard said "doctor."

As a full-time family physician and mother of four, sometimes I ask myself if the crazy balancing act our lives have become is all worth it. Would my family be better off if I worked part-time -- or not at all?

Helen Gray, M.D., pictured here with her family, says scheduling and multitasking are key to finding the right balance between home and work.

Little moments like that one let me know I'm doing the right thing. My son has spent time at my practice. He understands that my job -- helping people -- is important, and he sees me as a positive role model.

Of course, there are days when figuring out this work-life puzzle isn't easy. How do you juggle being a mom, wife and physician -- not to mention friend, daughter and more? It's a learning process every day. But at the end of the day, it's manageable.

Our children are 7 years old, 4 1/2 years old, 22 months and 5 months. My timing hasn't always been impeccable. Our first baby arrived during my third year of medical school, and our second was born during my intern year. No. 3 was born during my first year in practice. Baby No. 4, who was a surprise, was born last year during this, my third year of practice.

Although all newborns require some adjustments for families, the arrival of our third child was the most stressful for me. I found out I was pregnant in July, the month before I was supposed to start my job.

I worried about how my employer and new colleagues would react to the new physician who needed extended time off less than a year after being hired.

I worried if I was spending enough time physically at work, seeing my patients, building my practice and being focused on medicine, charts, billing, etc.

I worried about going on leave, away from my new patients, after spending several months building my practice and getting to know those patients.

And I worried if I would have enough time to be a good mom to my three children. The arrival of baby No. 3 gave us a newborn at home, one child in school and one in preschool. And the two older children have full slates of activities: piano, soccer, basketball and swimming for my son and gymnastics and dance for my daughter.

How do I get all my work done and make it to my kids' games, recitals and other events? It's not easy, but I'm not afraid to ask for help. Fortunately, my parents live in town and are willing to help. And my husband, who is a mortgage banker, has a flexible work schedule.

We look at our calendar each week and figure out what has to be done and by whom. You have to know your limits, and sometimes you have to say no -- at work and at home.

That first year out of residency wasn't as crazy as I had feared. My pregnancy went smoothly. I went to my physician frequently, and being on the other side of the patient-physician relationship reminded me what it's like to be the patient. That helped improve my bedside manner. Likewise, my experience as a mom has helped me with my own pediatric patients and in working with new parents. I can relate to different stages of life because of my own experiences, and that has made me a better family physician.

Now with four kids, our days are definitely full. But we all have same 24 hours in a day, so how do you maximize that time? Multi-tasking helps. For example, I plan to breastfeed my youngest child for at least a year. I set aside time to pump every day at work, but I also chart while I pump. And I'm available to staff to answer questions during that time.

There definitely have been moments when I've questioned myself about work -- usually when there is a family event I can't make it to -- but I've never come close to walking away. I'm too invested in medicine. After a rough day, there's always the next day and new opportunities. More often than not, my schedule goes as planned -- or close to it -- and I make it to my kids' activities.

At the end of one particularly hectic day recently, I scrambled across town to get to my son's school program, just in time to see him searching the audience to see if his family was there. The smile on his face when he saw me walk in made it all worth it.

How do you balance your responsibilities to work and home?

Helen Gray, M.D., is an employed family physician in Reno, Nev., working in a hospital-based setting. She also is adjunct faculty with the University of Nevada School of Medicine. You can follow her on Twitter @helengraymd(Twitter.com).

Posted at 05:08PM Feb 13, 2014 by Helen Gray, M.D.

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