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Parenting Hacks for the New-in-Practice Pathologist

I would like to preface this article with a few disclosures. 

  1. I only have one child (age 8). But he’s VERY busy!
  2. I have a wife with a full time very demanding job. 
  3. I don’t have a nanny. 
  4. I have 2 dogs that have helped my kid sleep through the night since he was 3 (he just didn’t sleep for his first 3 years, hence the only-one-child situation). 
  5. I have no immediate family in town that can help in emergencies.

So, my following comments are all written from this perspective. If you are a new-in-practice pathologist and have nanny(s), family in town willing to help, or numerous children with none of the above—this may not exactly apply to you. Also, I envy the former and send my condolences to the latter. 

Flexible Schedule Accommodates Sick Days

As pathologists, we are in a unique position as physicians in that we do not see patients on a regular basis, though this will hopefully change in the future as we strive to move toward more patient-centered practices. I mention this because I have a spouse who does see patients and therefore has a more rigid schedule. This means that when my son decides to spike a fever at 8:00PM on a Tuesday, I am heavily involved in sorting out the childcare for a sick day. I have found that I am not alone in this situation as others in my group are often in similar circumstances with their spouses, so I believe it is an issue that comes up for many pathologists. My wife and I have fallen into a habit of trying to split these “emergency days.” We will look at our schedules and figure out who can take the morning kid-shift and who can take the afternoon kid-shift. This sometimes means that the pathologist may have to return to work in the evening to finalize cases. While this is not ideal, it is often a necessity if one’s spouse cannot shift his/her schedule.  

It’s always good to keep in mind that slides can sometimes wait, but patients cannot. Many routine cases can be delayed for a day and clinicians are often OK with this if the pathologist communicates with them. Obviously, babysitters and nannies are the best options, but if these options fall through, consider an evening sign-out session to help preserve the harmony in your relationship. 

On the flip side, depending on the culture in your practice, some departments are fine if you bring your child to work for a few hours while you work on your cases. I am fortunate to have a very understanding division chief who allows this. So, if I have a relatively light day, I have found it helpful to bring my son to work where he can sit and read (or play games on my iPhone) for a few hours while I work. If I have a heavy day, I often ask colleagues to switch services so I can reschedule my heavy day when I am more available. This has “fixed” many of these emergencies and illustrates how important it is to create a helpful culture at work. Certainly, the first step in creating such a culture is to agree to help your colleagues when they find themselves in a bind. A little quid pro quo can go a long way.

Make Connections with Other Parents

I also recommend making friends with your kid(s)’ friends’ parents, especially those that have a stay-at-home spouse. While you probably can’t send a sick kid to play with a friend, this is a good option for those random days school, is out for teacher in-services, etc.  A play date makes everybody happy. Mom and dad can go to work guilt-free, and your child gets to play with his/her buddies all day.

But, what about all our kids’ extracurricular activities!? As kids get older, they just get involved in more stuff. For us, it’s baseball, soccer, and music lessons. How do you deal with all these evening activities and still find time to eat dinner and chill out as a family?  One thing that has reduced stress in my house has been to cook a bunch of meals on Sunday that can just be reheated during the week. That way, you can come home after a 6:00-8:00 PM soccer game and still have the energy to eat together. Cooking is stressful after 8:00 PM, so don’t do it if you don’t have to. Prepare food for the week, and you will find your evenings are much more relaxing. At the expense of airing out all my dirty laundry, I’ve found steam-in-the-bag vegetables and pre-cooked rotisserie chickens to be a godsend (those pre-cooked chickens taste good even if they sit in an airtight Tupperware container for five days).

Effective Use of Time and Money

Finally, as physicians, we all make pretty good salaries (and this is coming from someone in academics who probably makes less than the majority of people reading this article!). Studies have shown that spending money on things does not lead to happiness. Rather, spend your money on TIME. What do I mean by this? If you can, consider hiring a cleaning service, a yard service, a dog walking service, or anything you can think of to buy yourself some time. You’ve all probably been working your tails off since high school to join this wonderful world of pathology. Take care of yourselves and buy back some of that time. You can still make your kid do chores (a parenting necessity) but does he/she really need to help you clean the baseboards on Wednesday night after struggling through piano lessons? Probably not! Allow yourself to enjoy some of the fruits of your labor. A low-stress house is a happy house, and most of us are now in a position where we can afford some help. In fact, writing this article has made me reconsider hiring a nanny...hmmm.

The Ultimate Work-Life Balance

To summarize, for many of us, being a pathologist means we are the ones in the family with the more flexible job, and we have the resources to buy back a little time. Embrace the flexibility because you WILL score points with your spouse, and you will get some nice one-on-one moments with your kids. They grow up fast, and it won’t be long before they would rather hang out with their friends than spend the day with you. While it’s not always a slice of heaven as the Hallmark commercials would have us believe, we are in a better position to be involved parents compared to other specialties. Let’s use this to our advantage.

Dr. Joshua Hanson is an attending surgical pathologist at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. He specializes in gastrointestinal and liver pathology. When not practicing pathology, he spends his days fly fishing on the pristine trout streams of northern New Mexico.

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