This article was authored by Monika Sanghavi, MD, assistant professor in the division of cardiology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, TX, and a member of the ACC Women in Cardiology Section.
This academic year was a list of firsts for me. I bought my first home, started my first “real” job and had my first child. Despite lots of planning and plenty of support, I was confronted with the reality of “trying to do it all,” which previously was a theoretical concept. When I wrote the article, “Women in Cardiology: Introspection Into the Under-Representation” and explored reasons for the differences in ambition and academic success between men and women, the challenges seemed clear and the solutions achievable. However, it is not as simple as it seems. What was unfathomable at the time was the internal struggle that working mothers face.
At the end of last year, my future dreams and the steps needed to achieve them were all clearly laid out like the rungs of a ladder. This year, I came face to face with a little person who couldn’t say much or do much, but still managed to turn my world upside down and made me question my goals, aspirations and the entire meaning of life. It may sound extreme, but I have found that many other women have had the same experience and ask themselves tough questions and reprioritize their lives. Although I am still in the midst of change, I would like to provide future moms with some advice and tips that I have learned this year that helped me stay on track:
- Time Management
Multi-tasking, time management and efficiency will become more important than ever. Scheduling your day the night before helps you hit the ground running as soon as you wake up. To improve efficiency, one cardiologist uses dot phrases for everything. Not only does this save her time, but it acts as a reminder for her to ask certain questions in clinic or to follow specific labs.
In addition, you have to multi-task as much as possible. I have a long commute home, so I use that time to catch up with family and friends. If I am stuck in traffic, I run errands so I am using my time as efficiently as possible. I have also tried to adjust my schedule for more flexibility. I work extra late some days so I can go home earlier other days. Some women take care of charting in the evening when their children have gone to sleep. You have to make your schedule work for you. The way one of our senior cardiologists put it, “you have to be selfish with your time for your family.”
- Re-Evaluate Goals
As trainees, we often use transition points, such as applying to residency or fellowship, as opportunities to re-evaluate our goals and ask ourselves important questions. What would I be happiest doing? What field of training would allow me to do everything I want to do? Having a child is another important time to re-evaluate. Setting goals makes prioritizing tasks easier and helped me feel more comfortable spending time away from my child.
When you transition from fellowship to faculty, you no longer have the short-term goals that are externally created for you by the training process. In my opinion, it is important to create one month, six month, one year and longer-term goals for yourself, in order to stay motivated and keep moving forward. Whether the goal is to be more efficient, become a better teacher, improve research or clinical productivity is irrelevant. What is important is for you to take time to set those goals for yourself and re-evaluate on a regular basis whether you are achieving them. Otherwise, it is very easy to get overwhelmed in your in your day to day responsibilities and remain stagnant without growth.
- Series Rather Than Parallel Circuits
I think the analogy that some things can happen in series rather than parallel is a great reminder that priorities can change depending on the circumstances in your life. Take the pressure off yourself to do everything immediately. I have come to terms with the fact that it’s okay if I am stuck on the same rung of my “ladder” for some time while I focus on other important things in my life. As long as I stay on the ladder and move to the next rung when I can, I am still working toward my goals.
- Delegate, Delegate, Delegate
The most successful women that I have seen balance work and home life well have delegated as many non-essential tasks as possible at work and at home. As one of our cardiologists put it, “hire the world.” Examples of help at home include nannies, cooks, drivers, cleaners and other helpers to do additional tasks (dry cleaning, groceries, etc.). One woman hired a friend to decorate the house for the holidays and saved herself the time of doing it.
- The Universality of Guilt
One word you will often hear from every mom’s mouth is … guilt. Guilt that you’re not spending enough time with your child; guilt that you’re not making homemade meals; guilt that you’re not doing enough; guilt that you’re not dedicating enough time to your work. Guilt comes as part of the package of being a mom. You just have to learn to manage your own guilt by letting go of unrealistic external AND internal expectations. When you’re focusing your attention on multiple things, you can never give 100 percent of your attention to everything, but that’s OK. You do what you can and what you feel is enough.
- Quality Over Quantity
I have spoken to many adults whose mothers worked when they were children. One recurrent theme was that they didn’t mind the time away as long as they had quality time with their mom when she was home. A recent study also supports the idea that it’s the quality not quantity of time that is important.
As I continue to work to create order in this storm of change, I routinely get advice from those who have fared similar waters in the past and take solace that so many amazing women have figured out a way to create a balance in their lives that allow them “to do their best.” I think “doing it all” may be an unrealistic expectation created by society that we naively are trying to achieve.
To learn more about the ACC Women in Cardiology Member Section, visit ACC.org/WIC.