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Creating the Balance Between Medicine and Family


It is very important for us physicians to remember that we must never neglect our families.

Practicing medicine in one's hometown can be very satisfying professionally, but being the primary care physician for so many close friends in the community can bring with it many challenges. Probably the biggest challenge of all is how to effectively create the perfect balance between always being there for your patients and at the same time, never neglecting one's family.

When my wife and I moved back to southwestern Virginia in 2003, we brought with us our 15-month-old daughter. During the first years of my daughter's life, it was very difficult to ensure that I was being a good daddy for her and trying not to neglect my family while building my private practice. Physicians in a small town can certainly attest to the fact that the daily work hours can be long and strenuous at times. I was on call roughly one to two nights per week and at least one weekend per month. This call schedule meant that I had, at best, one or two opportunities through the week to sit down to eat dinner with my family. The other days found me coming in late or having to leave to go back to the hospital ED for the evening's list of admissions that were awaiting me.

I continued this vigorous call schedule until 2008. By that time, my second daughter had been born and was almost three. One night at dinner with my family, my oldest daughter jumped as my pager rang and said, "...oh daddy, do you have to go to the hospital again? You just got home and we haven't seen you all day!" The very next day, I went to the hospital CEO and informed him that I was contemplating resigning my hospital privileges because I found that I was spending far too much time at the hospital during the evenings and on too many weekends. The result of that brief meeting initiated our hospital's newest feature, the hospitalist service. The hospitalists were a joy to work with. I was able to give up my weekday call days and as my patients were admitted to their service, I was able to take over their care the following day and continue to care for them until discharge. I still chose to rotate weekends with the other physicians on the medical staff and now find that taking call is no longer an annoying chore. I actually find myself looking forward to it at times.

Going out to restaurants with my family most always assures that I will bump into several of my patients. I would say that over 99 percent of my patients are very mindful of my personal time with my family and if any of them come over to our table to initiate a conversation, it seems they mostly rave about how my girls are growing and how polite their manners are. Of course this makes the father in me beam with joy.

We attend church services regularly and I am very active in the church body. The same holds true for fellow church members, as many are still very mindful of my personal time. Whenever someone might pass the line of general chit chat and continue to press me for medical advice, my usual answer to them would be to advise that they schedule an appointment in the office so that their issue(s) can be discussed appropriately in private. To this day, I have never received negative feedback for this response.

It is very important for us physicians to remember that we must never neglect our families. The best therapy for the most stressful days at the office involves cuddling on the couch with my girls and watching Scooby Doo or Brady Bunch reruns. My wife has always been supportive of my career decision and as my daughters mature, they show the same support. As each year passes, I am finding myself taking a greater number of long weekend trips with my wife and daughters. I am able to go to dance recitals and we are able to get to church successfully on a weekly basis. I also feel that my patients respect me more as a person when they see that not only am I dedicated to caring for them appropriately, but I also take great pride in being a husband and daddy first and a physician second.

Learn more about J. Scott Litton, Jr., and our other contributing bloggers here.

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