The Ultimate Balancing Act


Balancing a family and a career in medicine isn't easy, but these tips can help.

Fam Pract Manag. 2021 Jan-Feb;28(1):40.

Author disclosure: no relevant financial affiliations disclosed.

Medical students often ask me if it is possible to balance having a family and succeeding in medicine. They must think I have the answer because I have a large family in addition to being a physician. But most days I feel like I am barely staying afloat. I do believe work-life balance is possible and rewarding, but it is the hardest thing I have ever done.

Years ago, as a second-year medical student, I went to the Dominican Republic on a medical mission trip and treated orphans in a clinic we set up. That's when I felt led to pursue a career in family medicine, as well as to help children who might not have anyone advocating for them. A few years later, when my husband and I wanted to start a family, we decided that, in addition to having biological children, we wanted to adopt. We also became foster parents, and at one point went from having two children to six children in a six-month period.

Today, we have five children under the age of five. I teach at a medical school part time, practice part time at a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), and work a couple shifts per month as a hospitalist. My husband teaches high school. It is busy to say the least, and COVID-19 has made it seem even busier. Here's what I tell students who ask about work-life balance.

  1. It takes a village. I live near my parents and in-laws, and have several babysitters who help watch the kids when my husband and I are at work or need some time together. Not everyone can (or wants to) live near family, so other options include building support through community groups, church groups, or other physicians and families in your area.

  2. It helps to have as much financial freedom as possible. My husband and I chose to pay off medical school debt prior to starting a family, which allowed us to choose jobs that fit our family. It is not possible for everyone to do that these days, but there are other options: loan repayment for working in underserved or rural areas, military stipends during or after

Dr. Holley is an assistant professor of family medicine at Florida Atlantic University's Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine in Boca Raton, Fla.

Author disclosure: no relevant financial affiliations disclosed.


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