Making Half as Much but Twice as Happy

Working part time is about more than just “work-life balance”.

I am very fortunate to be, as some of my close friends jokingly describe, “under employed”.  Before I elaborate, I first want to say that I am amazed by, and find inspiration from, the many people around me who manage to do much more with much less.  I recall taking care of a child, one of a set of twins, with serious medical problems.  He was about to have major surgery and I was struck by how calm and sharp his mother was. After obtaining his medical history, our conversation turned to more personal things. I discovered that the child was not just one of twins, but one of four children total, and that this mother also worked full time. On top of it all, she was a single mom.  I was humbled and told her she was my hero.

 This is not to say I haven’t put my time in. I sacrificed and worked long, hard hours during medical school and residency to become an anesthesiologist. And things did not change much after becoming an attending in 2005. Although I loved the pay raise and appreciated the sense of purpose my work gave me, the time spent working all of the mandatory overtime hours never felt as valuable to me as my free time. Time became even more precious after the birth of my son in 2011.  Going back to work full time was very hard for me when he was only 13 weeks old and, in my attempt to be everywhere and do everything, I came face to face with exhaustion. A few years later, in the summer of 2015 and at the peak of my burnout, I was diagnosed and treated for invasive breast cancer.

 Most cancer survivors will tell you that experiencing an event like this changes you forever. I am no different and I consider my illness to be the catalyst for the most meaningful shift in my adult life.  Although this sounds dramatic, I had a very intense fear of dying and missing out on my son’s life. So partly because of that, and partly because I wanted to avoid getting to the point of exhaustion that I intuitively felt had a role in my illness, I asked to come back to work part time when I was done with my treatments. I am now able to enjoy my work life and personal life in ways much more fulfilling than ever before.

 So here I am today.  Healthy and in my 3rd year of part time practice as a physician. I have filled my free time with pursuits like creative writing, design, and have a presence in my son’s life that I would never have been able to have if I was working full time.  There are sacrifices, financial and otherwise, that come with working part time in an intensive field like medicine, but I would not change it for the world. 

 Here is where I explore and share all the things that have enabled me to get to this point, and have allowed me to stay here comfortably, from the angle of physical, emotional and financial well-being. I also have an interest in how many of the life style choices we make have an impact on our physical health and the environment around us. I will talk about my personal experience with breast cancer from both the perspective of a physician and a patient and share some of my successes, as well as failures, along that path. And, I can’t help but dabble and experiment here with my interests in writing and design too! I hope by sharing my experiences I can support others, especially physicians, who find themselves overtaxed in their lives by giving them some tools to create more balance in a life that supports their own well-being.