Sometimes, the Job Only You Can Do Doesn't Involve Medicine

May 17, 2011

No matter what work-life balance means for you personally, whether it is a four-day workweek, a Blackberry-free vacation with your family, or a commitment to exercise and eat lunch every day, certain things deserve not only respect but support.

One of my co-workers was home today with a sick child. She felt incredibly guilty having to reschedule patients and ask colleagues to cover for her. Guilt is an ever present part of mothering, I fear. 

This is a kind of no-win situation. If you stay home with your child, you may be a great mom, but you are racked with guilt over the patients you are letting down and the colleagues you are burdening. If you go to work (if that’s even a possibility), you are distracted by the thought of your child, home sick without you being there to offer comfort. Wherever you physically are, your thoughts are in the other location.

This is ridiculous. No matter what work-life balance means for you personally, whether it is a four-day workweek, a Blackberry-free vacation with your family, or a commitment to exercise and eat lunch every day, certain things deserve not only respect but support. The first is that there are certain jobs that only we can do - whether that is being a parent to our children, a son or daughter to our parents, a friend to our best friend, or even the only doctor for a certain patient in a particular situation. The second is that fulfilling these important roles is something deserving of pride, not guilt. There should be no shame in taking on these roles when we are needed.

This is easier said than done. Most physicians feel tremendous responsibility for and to their patients. We were educated and trained in a system that rewarded unhealthy commitment and frowned on anything that took us away from medicine.

No wonder that responding to normal demands leaves us feeling somehow less than the best doctor we can be. It is both our personal responsibility to offer no apology for being a mom, a dad, a son, or a friend as well as to not expect one from our colleagues when they ask us to cover so that they can do the job that only they can do. 

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