My wife and I welcomed our son into this world during my second semester of medical school. Quickly I had to adapt my approach to my studies and the process was exceptionally challenging. As I reflect back on the immense change that occurred in our life I recognize that other medical students experience similar events and I would like to offer my experience as a form of support.
A preceptor I worked with in infectious diseases once told me that it is a blessing and great privilege to be a physician, but the greatest responsibility is being a supportive father and husband (or mother, wife depending on how you identify). The challenge of being both is striking a balance and discovering how to be emotionally, mentally and physically present in one role and then switching to the other without remaining distracted. I have learned a few techniques that help facilitate finding this balance and keeping the realms of medical student and family separate while giving each their respect due.
- In our world of interconnectedness, social media and instant gratification the devices we rely so much on need to put down and forgotten at key points in our day. When switching from family role to medical role (i.e. during patient handoffs or arriving to clinic) or vice versa these devices need to be silenced and not within eyes or hands reach. Patients, colleagues, support staff, spouses and children can all sense when they are not receiving your full attention and they deserve your full attention. Especially when you are just seeing them for the first time that day. Eye contact helps you listen to messages being delivered to you, as does being in a quiet environment. Cell phones, computers, pagers are all notorious for distracting so they must be set aside. Taking this small step when you walk into your home or provider setting demonstrates to family or patients that their time is valuable and you respect it.
- If you make a commitment stick to it. This is commonsense but difficult to do as a medical student with a family. I remember several times after our son arrived bailing on set date night in order to study just to feel as though my time spent studying was not productive because I felt guilty about not honoring my commitment to my wife. Going back to what my infectious diseases preceptor told me the greatest responsibility I have is being a supportive parent and spouse. I have done very well in medical school and on board examinations and I have put countless hours into studying. However, not once did I feel as though sacrificing a commitment I had made to my family ended up benefitting my performance on whichever difficult exam I had coming up. In fact, the times I remained true to my commitment and took a break from my studies to be with my family I felt rejuvenated and more focused upon returning to my exam preparation.
- If you are a mother or father try and find something your child(ren) can rely on you for. As much as possible I read to my son, we both enjoy it thoroughly for our respective reasons. The stories themselves are entertaining to my son and I get to hold him and watch his mind process information which I find empowering. Even when I was in a different state in a different time zone on away rotations I still found time to read via FaceTime. This of course was a scenario where technology supported my efforts as a father instead of hindered them (see point #1).
I am happy to provide further examples about what has worked and what needs modifying in order to help achieve balance but for now I will leave you with this. Many of us feel overwhelmed at times, and rightfully so, but focus on what brings a smile to your face as much as possible and be thankful for your position in life no matter how difficult it may seem.