Many of us here at WRaPEM understand firsthand the juggle that comes with being both a doctor and a parent. In the following blog posts, two doctors share their stories of how they successfully combine parenting and emergency medicine, and how their perspectives about their work changed after becoming a parent.
And learning to work smarter to achieve training success
By Sanjay Valand
With a bang and flurry of movement, our bedroom door is flung wide open at dawn. Three of my children enter – the second youngest is the first to run in and jump on our bed. A collection of hugs, requests for breakfast and ‘Did you came from work Daddy?’ are my wake-up alarm. Our eldest, carries in our youngest, who although cute in her sleep sack, requires a nappy change. The fourth then follows in with an iPad-related problem. It is then that my wife Peita and I discuss our day ahead and perform a ‘rock, paper, scissors’ about immediate domestic jobs. Invariably, it is Peita who carries the house, the kids and my fatigue. I am studying to sit my Fellowship exams.
Perhaps with a look of envy coupled with annoyance at my (late) arrival into the kitchen, she asks what time I will be home. Not from work, but from my study session after work. By that point, learning the ropes in Emergency Medicine and Critical Care had been ‘as good as it gets’. Busy rosters, out of hours and on-calls made for an interesting accruement of skills and experience. You revelled in the fact that you could draw blood from stone, throw in an arterial line from the end of the bed and reduce a Colles’ perfectly.
In a blended family, the following were commonplace: missed family events, school plays and even birthdays, all in the name of the ‘Registrar roster’ and those WBAs. Planning ahead and requesting shifts around the rest of your life had limits. Which of your colleagues would want your weekend or night? It was tough hearing ‘yes but you’re never around’ from step-children, parents and your spouse. Yet, you persevered and got to that mystic last year in Advanced Training. Although feeling like I was nearing the top of Mt Everest, it was ‘early days’ at home: currently my children are young – infants.
Shifts seemed to swallow time; amongst a row of lates or nights it was difficult to allocate time to study amidst the labour-intensive bath, dinner and bed times. I felt overwhelmed and entitled to relax kid-free; Peita felt overworked and undervalued. Luckily, Peita was still on extended maternity leave, but this wouldn’t last indefinitely and I knew it.
My various identities – and the demands that came with each – collided at every turn. Just when things threatened to overwhelm me, an opportunity for relief came my way.
I was ushered towards a rotation at the private ED linked to my main contract, which seemed to eliminate the stress and fatigue often encountered at a busy tertiary ED. The private ED was very different. As part of a fee-for-service team of doctors, I became the ‘relief’ doctor. When shifts were busy, I’d muck in and help. At other times, I could study and make use of the local resources, whilst doing ward calls and cannulas as required.
More importantly, I had one-on-one time with the Director of Emergency Medicine Training (DEMT). This, I believe, was the turning point. The DEMT had children, and a searing desire to extract excellence from his trainees, and he gave me a lot of his own time. ‘Just at standard’ was not an option: I felt self-realisation and removal of my own ego were just as key to success as memorising blood gas formulae or the Chalice guidelines. Sessions were planned around my clinical shifts, making for a much longer day, but it was time well spent with the focus and intensity of a real exam.
For the first time, my studies had been ‘plugged into’ my family schedule. Every day was divided into morning or evening chores. An early shift with a study session straight after enabled me to come home to assist with the bath/dinner/bed ritual. A late shift with a study session just before allowed me to help with the morning school run and washing. Peita felt validated and relieved, I felt happier to enjoy the kids and contribute.
Maybe it was a sense of wellbeing that made exam preparation feel streamlined and facts easier to retain; maybe it was the fact that my wife and I had a compromise that felt good; or perhaps I just studied harder (smarter, in fact). The actual factor is now lost with the passage of time, but I feel it was a mix of ideas formed by a group of people eager to see me succeed no matter what. With so many stakeholders investing in Sanjay.com, and the time and space to achieve my potential, gradually, I was able to secure a one-way trip to exam and training success.