Quality of life is a hot topic in health care right now, transforming the traditional practice of monitoring numbers such as IOP and visual acuity to also include subjective metrics such as how patients’ vision has an impact on their lives. As physicians, we tend to be very type-A, driven professionals who have invested heavily in our careers, and we also measure success by numbers, such as published research or completed surgeries. Sometimes, however, we too need to take a step back and assess not just our career by the numbers, but if we are achieving a work-life balance that is allowing us an excellent quality of life.
MY GROWING FAMILY
Following my cornea fellowship at the Cullen Eye Institute, Baylor College of Medicine, I joined the faculty there. My experience in Houston was wonderful: I gained experience in very diversified subspecialties, including refractive surgery, ocular surface disease, and anterior segment reconstruction. I also had many wonderful opportunities to form collegial relationships with my mentors, in which we collaborated on surgical techniques in an environment of constant learning. Although I grew by leaps and bounds professionally, I somehow overlooked any formal memos on motherhood, and this new “identity” was quite unnatural for me. The birth of my second child less than 2 years after my first was a joyous blessing, and further highlighted the coexisting complexities in life. Family first, of course, but my dedication to my professional pursuits was a close second. I soon learned that first lesson of parenthood: children really don’t care too much about being efficient or scheduled.
After countless sleepless nights, feelings of failure followed by shame, and quite frankly, some bitterness about the lack of control at home, I realized that something had to give. As I prioritized the various aspects of my career, I determined that I loved my surgical practice and clinical research, and that, although I enjoyed it, I could reduce the time that I invested in teaching residents, at least for a while. In my personal life, I decided that I needed to live near family and have that safety net. Serendipitously, my search for a private practice near family coincided with Virginia Eye Consultants’ search for a corneal refractive specialist.
MAKING THE MOVE
Some academic ophthalmologists fear moving to a private practice for a number of reasons including isolation from the academic community. The practice where I landed, however, has welcomed my input and allowed me to diversify their offerings. I had a large volume of patients at Baylor and vast exposure, which allowed me to feel very prepared with the demands of my new practice. I have found many opportunities to share techniques and experience with my new colleagues rather than be limited by what they historically have done. For example, I had previously worked on postrefractive surgery IOL calculations and posterior corneal astigmatism, and I have been able to transfer that on with my new colleagues to help optimize the results of the entire team. I have experience with all of the IOLs currently on the market and have been able to introduce my colleagues to my preferred lenses, specifically the Tecnis one-piece IOLs (Abbott Medical Optics Inc.).
Transferring to a busy private practice that is well organized and focused on making me as productive and efficient as possible has been a pleasant change from academic institutions that commonly suffer financially and have to downsize their support of younger faculty members. I am still working full-time Monday to Friday, but my days are filled with the aspects of my career that I most enjoy.
As a society, we have historically measured success by the numbers—particularly financial numbers and career achievement. Women in particular self-impose an extraordinary amount of pressure to excel at both a career and motherhood, and we have no experience with the parenting component until we have a child. In the end, we learn that failure in one aspect affects our level of contentedness in the other area, and that there must be a balance between the two. In my case, that has caused my career to take a different path than I initially had in mind, but I am finding a new course that better balances the other important areas of my life.