Heart of a Lion, Hands of a Woman: What Women Neurosurgeons Do
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Friday, November 12, 2010

Creating Balance

I recently addressed a group of enthusiastic medical students considering neurosurgery as a career.  I spoke on creating balance between a demanding career and home/life/family.  The following is a distillation of that address.

My mother told me I couldn't be a "superwoman", the somewhat pejorative term used for early generations of working women who were also moms and more.  Fortunately, I lived in a different era than my mother and my options for lifestyle choices were greater.  Those of you entering the workforce 20+ years later have even greater options.
Achieving balance requires:

  • Hardwork
  • Dedication
  • Creativity
  • Constant re-assessment
  • A little bit of luck
There are so many variables in every confluence of work/home/family that there is no one answer that will work for everyone.  That being said, those entering this world now need not re-invent the wheel-there are now many who have blazed the path and found creative solutions that may apply to others situations.  There is no magic, just real life people who have found there way in the brave, new world.

What are some of the greatest challenges/questions to those who wish to enter a career such as neurosurgery?

  1. If I become a neurosurgeon, who will take care of my children?  You have many options:you, your spouse, friends, nanny, au pair, or day care.  I chose to place my children in day care though when I completed residency and moved to NY, I found I needed to supplement that with a caregiver who collected the kids from daycare and started their dinner.  Of course, they soon became much more independent and soon needed more taxidriver than babysitter!
  2. If I am a neurosurgeon and have a family, how can I exercise and live healthy?  This can be a challenge but certainly eating healthy (packing your lunch, for example) takes no more time than the alternative and actually saves money.  Consider just walking 15-20 minutes a day until family life stabilizes and permits more.  We started walking with our children at a young age so the fitness of hiking became an important family activity!
  3. If I am a neurosurgeon and my spouse also works, can we find jobs together? Sure, this is a challenge and you may have limits on your choices but employers like stability and if two of you are connected to a job (or region/city) that is a big plus.  These days, many jobs (though not neurosurgery) allow work from home for all or part of the week.  There are many options.
Just a few more myths/truths:

  1. You can't have it all-TRUE! Even in an ice cream shop one must make choices!
  2. There is never a good time to have children-TRUE! But we try to choose better times and know that for generations, we have survived this challenge, too.
  3. Few go to their grave wishing they worked more/earned more money-TRUE.  I do know many who have regretted missing that school play, the birthday party, or sitting by the bedside of a loved one who will soon die.
  4. There is one right way for...marriage/parenting/career development-FALSE.  There are as many options and paths as there are stars in the sky!
  5. Working longer hours increasing productivity-FALSE.  Many studies show that those that structure their day and leave the office at a reasonably scheduled time outperform colleagues whose days stretch on for many additional hours.
Don't be afraid of change! Inertia can be your enemy in life.  Live, love, and follow your dreams!

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