My father is a retired intensive care doctor. Perhaps because of his field, and in part because it was more than 30 years ago, the notion of "work-life balance in medicine" was very foreign to me as a kid. We had two phone lines in our house, and if my dad's line rang we were strictly expected to answer in professional tones: "Dr. Schlozman's residence." I actually thought it was sort of cool - like I was somehow participating in the lives and treatment of my dad's patients, and if my dad got called to the hospital, that was just the way it worked. I can remember hearing the garage door open and my dad's car pulling out of the driveway, the old digital clock on my nightstand showing some horrifically early morning hour. This was routine practice, and this practice, I am certain, my father would have defined as well within the bounds of what one did as a doctor.
Well, times have changed. I'd hazard that most doctor's still experience their work as a special calling, a privileged service to relieve suffering as much as possible, but increasingly I find that doctors also see their active and available roles in their families as absolutely central to their quality of life. And, after teaching medical students now for more than 10 years, after sitting on both medical school curriculum committees and on GME committees, after attending national and international gatherings of physicians from all fields, I feel very comfortable saying that child and adolescent psychiatry is among the best, perhaps THE best field in which one can honor equally the roles of being with family and treating patients.
This is in part because the very nature of our therapeutic recommendations - strengthening the family system itself, for example - forces child and adolescent psychiatrists to reckon as well with their own families. This isn't to say that this balance just happens. You don't just enter the field and suddenly have admirable time with patients, colleagues and family alike. You have to work at it, but the point worth noting is that child psychiatry lends itself naturally to these objectives. I've found that my very busy career, and my wonderful and also very demanding bosses, always, ALWAYS understand when there is a special soccer game to coach, a school function to attend, even a regular family dinner that holds great meaning. This topic, how we balance life outside of the academic and clinical environment with life inside our own houses, is an active point of discussion at every work meeting I attend. We focus on these issues not only for ourselves, but perhaps even more importantly, for the residents and fellows we train. I know that every doctor I work with puts the highest premium on family, and we do this professionally because our training tells us that it makes us better doctors.
I have found that the field of child psychiatry affords freedom that enhances and never hinders your ability to enjoy your family and your work. Our patients are sick (we didn't sign up to care for healthy people!) and our families hold great meaning, and it turns out that caring for sick, sometimes very sick kids, requires us to be with our families for support, for balance, and because it just plain makes life more enjoyable.
Steven Schlozman, M.D.