By Samer Al Hadidi, MD, MS, FACP
Being in a dual-physician household for residency and fellowship training is not easy. Residency training is usually busier than fellowship training, though this is variable between subspecialties and training programs. Many trainees will have to balance family responsibilities and their training duties. This balance is hard, and multi-layered support will be needed to sail through training while keeping sanity. Kids can be a source of joy, relief, and support. On the other hand, imbalance between parenting and fellowship training will result in incremental stress, and failure to achieve goals. Here I provide some tips that I found helpful while trying to balance both roles as a fellow and as a father of 4- and 7-year-old daughters:
- When spending time with your kids, minimize work-related interruptions.
Trying to do both roles simultaneously will result in not fulfilling either. Kids require attention, support, and help. When having a weekend off, spend time with your kids. Plan for some activities. Don’t check your email during the time you spend together. Give them your full attention to get the joy you need and to re-charge your work performance. If you have to catch up on some work on the weekend, do that after you put them to sleep, though it is better to avoid working on your day off if at all possible.
- Alternate responsibilities.
You cannot do it all. On some months your schedule will allow for more family time than other months. Try to alternate responsibilities with your partner. This will allow you to accommodate busy work schedules while getting the help you need. Doing some simple things when having a busy schedule to help as a parent will always make you feel better. A few examples include getting your kids to sleep, reading a story, spending some time in the park together, playing games, or coloring.
- Work on your schedule early on.
Most training programs will allow for a yearly master schedule. Plan ahead. Get some easy months interspersed between harder months. Figure out the months your kids will need you the most and try to take easy rotations at those specific times. Ask to switch with your colleagues when in need.
- Work on your kid’s schedule early on.
Your kid’s schedule is as important as yours. Many daycares/schools have planned time off that may not align with your schedule. Most will have their schedule in advance for the whole year. Review your kid’s schedule and take your vacation during their time off. If you’re unable to do that, you can figure out another option, such as a camp or short-term activity for that time period. While in training it may be hard to financially afford a babysitter, especially for many days, but doing that for few days can be a potential solution.
- Have a nidus of friends who share similar challenges.
You will have people around you who are facing the same challenges. Form a nidus of friends. You can help each other when needed. This can include emergencies where you need immediate help and also extends for getting together and doing more kids’ activities. Friends will be helpful with ideas, previous experience, and guidance.
- Look for a training program that supports families.
When you interview for a training program, ask questions to figure out how much support you may get. Identify interviewers with families and ask them how they are doing. Focus on program trainees who have kids and see how they are dealing with training and their families. Make sure you consider this variable in your rank list. Supportive programs tend to allow you succeed in your goals.
- Life is not only about work—remember what really matters.
Taking care of patients dealing with cancer is glorious, however it carries a risk of burnout. Family can help you overcome this risk. Everybody’s point of balance may be different, though what matters is achieving a balance between your family duties and your job. Afterall, if you are feeling well, you can do a better job in taking care of patients who need you.
Training is stressful. Parenting can be stressful. A combination of parenting while in training with a busy schedule can be a recipe for insanity. Keeping sane while balancing training and family duties requires planning and help. You can use the joy you get from your family to better do your job while doing your role as a parent. Remember that training is temporary, and parenting is lifelong.
Dr. Al Hadidi is a third-year fellow in the Section of Hematology and Oncology at Baylor College of Medicine, and a member of the ASCO Trainee Council. His research interests include areas related to hematologic oncology, with a focus on drug development, health equity, and medical education. Follow Dr. Al Hadidi on Twitter @HadidiSamer. Disclosure.