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Finding Balance as a Physician Means Making Tough Choices


When I’m deciding what commitments to jettison, I keep in mind who it really matters for.

A couple of years ago, I was afforded an excellent opportunity to be an associate medical editor.  As someone who enjoys writing, I thought this would be helpful to build my editing skills and give me a different perspective on the process from authorship to publication. It has fulfilled both those expectations.

I did not expect, however, the amount of hard work and time required. Authors vary in quality, responsiveness, and willingness to work as part of the process. Editorial staff members are on tight deadlines and require quick turn-arounds to stay on a production schedule. The result is a process that is far more complex than simply assigning a topic, reviewing the completed project, and getting it into print.  It involves many, many moving parts and many hands in the pot. Needless to say, while it was a great experience, it was a significant time commitment. 

I felt honored to be afforded this opportunity and wanted to do a great job. I felt badly admitting that it was too much for me to do when combined with four young kids and a full-time clinical position. I kept telling myself I would keep at it for a couple more years and then resign. However, a few weeks ago, the deadline crunch and demands of the editorial staff with whom I work became overwhelming. Therefore, I resigned.  

Was this the right choice? Undoubtedly yes! After soliciting some feedback about my experiences, it was decided to replace me with two associate medical editors as the workload was thought to be too much for someone with a full-time job. While I still feel a bit badly about bowing out, I am somewhat comforted that it might not have been all me - maybe the job was just too big for me to do with all of my other obligations.

After I resigned, I wondered why I waited so long to do something that I had been considering for months. The number one reason: fear. Fear that my reputation would suffer for not being able to do the job. Fear that if I let this opportunity pass I was also letting other potential opportunities pass me by. Fear that I’d be bored if I didn’t have this intellectually challenging job to do. Fear that I’d be leaving my colleagues with all of my work to do.

This fear goes against one of my key professional philosophical tenets which I call “the hit by a bus mentality.” It’s morbid but goes like this. If I was hit by a bus tomorrow, life would go on quite well without me. My patients would find someone else to deliver their babies, fill their medications, and pass the tissues. My various obligations would be redistributed. Someone else would step up to teach Sunday school or volunteer for the school’s Halloween party. 

The one group that would be most affected because I would be irreplaceable is my family. When looked at through this lens, my priorities become much clearer. My patients don’t need my pager number for 24/7 access because I have great colleagues. Not everything I can do is something I have to do. But for my husband and my kids, there is only one me and no one can do it better. So, when I’m deciding what commitments to jettison, I keep in mind who it really matters for.

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