Two weeks ago I sat in an open air cafe in Istanbul lazily eating mezes or appetizers, drinking dubious Turkish wine and talking with my godmother. What a gift! As we sat and chatted the conversation turned where it usually does between two doctors. Boring anyone around us, we always seem to find a way back to the days of our training, trading war stories from the hospital days.
In this case my paltry stories were truly weak compared to hers. Her training was Herculean. She graduated from the University of Virgina medical school sometime in the early 60s as one of two women in her class, did a residency and fellowship in the South Bronx and has just recently retired from a career as a hematologist. Her hours were brutal (every other night for every year), her education never-ending. If every minute out of the hospital is indeed education lost, she lost little. Except sleep. Among lots of riveting tales of patient care challenges, there was one striking personal story. Late in her residency she was at last granted three days off for Christmas. On Christmas Eve she drove from New York to Virginia but became terribly lost on the familiar drive because of a haze of illness setting in. She arrived on her parents’ doorstep at 2 AM exhausted and feverish only to sleep through most of Christmas and drive back to NY the following day. When she returned to work an attending noticed how ill she was and sent her for labs that ultimately revealed mononucleosis. This was thrilling to her – two weeks of enforced time out of the hospital! Who cares how ill she was – there was freedom and sleep before her!
My experiences as a medical student and resident could not have been more different. Although I trained before there was any attention to national limits on resident work hours, I certainly did not have every other call at all, let alone for years. I managed to insert a pregnancy into medical school, one into residency and much to the chagrin of my now-colleagues, one the first year I graduated. I did not have to become ill to find a balance in my life (although I may have been equally sleep deprived thanks to the 3 kiddos).
I just finished reading a thought-provoking post by Doctor Chris Porter. He wrote of the need to shift our mentality or thinking about hours worked in the hospital. He felt it benefits our profession to be accepting of a balance of hours in the hospital (learning more medicine) with hours out (nurturing our families). How true. I am a product of the shifting tide of thought. I am also made very grateful to those pioneering sorts that went before; listening to my godmother talk made me even more acutely aware of the gifts they gave us today. ©
Addendum: Dr. Porter has another wise post on his blog site: On Surgery, “The Part-Time Doctor”. In it he states “Openly planning to balance work life with family life is mature and admirable”. Hear, Hear!