I Want to Be a Doctor
5-Dad and Surgeon?
July 22, 2021
Today's question is from a third year medical student who asks: I'm loving my surgery rotations but I also want to have a family. Can I be a surgeon and be a good dad? Yes absolutely. But you're probably looking for more details than that. https://podcasts.bcast.fm/i-want-to-be-a-doctor
 Welcome to the I want to be a doctor podcast where insider information about what it takes to become a physician is available for anyone. I'm Dr. Robin Dickinson a board-certified family physician and I will give honest answers to your questions Today's question is from a third year medical student who asks: I'm loving my surgery rotations but I also want to have a family. Can I be a surgeon and be a good dad?

Yes absolutely. But you're probably looking for more details than that. 

The important thing to remember when choosing any career is that you can be anything but you can't be everything. Let that sink in for a minute. We have been told our whole lives that we can be anything we want to be if we have the support we need, the right opportunities, and work hard to use them. And I am a firm believer that in most situations that is true. 

At the same time, we often think that by being anything we can also be everything. And that is not true. You can definitely be both a great surgeon and a great dad. But you can't be a great surgeon and a great dad and a great athlete and a community leader and 6 other things. You're going to have to choose what are your top priorities. If your top two priorities are being a great surgeon and a great dad, you're going to have to sacrifice some other things that might be very important to you. If on the other hand, being involved in local politics, having an active social life, travel, or particular hobby is more important to you then kids, then you need to be honest with yourself about that now, not once there are kids on the scene. 

All of us have a limited amount of time and energy. We are all given the same 168 hours a week. Now some of us are better at using that time wisely than others, but none of us can magically make more time appear out of nowhere. And everything of value requires an investment of time. So this is going to be a matter of both priority management and time management. 

During my training I rotated with a really high volume, high quality surgeon, who also was a very involved husband and father. He was very open that one of the keys of his success was that his office scheduler also had his family's calendar. He made it clear with his staff that his family's schedule came first and so the scheduler consulted the family calendar continually. The office scheduler made sure that the surgeon would be done for performances, award ceremonies, date nights with his wife, and other important events in the family, including at least several meals together with his kids every week. This required him being open about the fact that his family was a priority and being willing to set his work schedule around the family's needs. 

He also told me that for life to work for a surgeon's family, you either needed to have plenty of hired help, or a stay-at-home spouse and plenty of hired help. I think in our culture there has been a long history of looking down on hiring someone to help your family. But there are many things we outsource. You probably don't repair your own car or milk your own cow. And once you're a physician, you won't be compounding your own medications for your patients, and will refer out anything that is outside your scope of practice. 

Having the same mentality around a home and family can make a huge difference in your ability to be a good surgeon and a good dad. If you're willing to pay someone to do everything that is not critically important for you yourself to actually do yourself and your spouse or partner does the same, then you will have the time for what really matters. I do not know a single good surgeon male or female, who is also a great parent, who believes they must clean their own house, cook all their own meals, drive their children to all their activities, and do all other regular tasks that you may be used to doing for yourself. I'm not saying you have to outsource everything. But you need to go at this with a willingness to accept help. 

Finally, parenting is both an art and science. So start learning and practicing now. Spend time with kids who are younger than you. Read the latest science about child development, resilience, and attachment. And know that actually being a parent is a lot messier than what you think it will be. I'm not the kind of parent I thought I'd be... and that's great. Because I've learned to be flexible, resilient, and forgiving of myself and those are all important skills when juggling a big career and a family. 

Ultimately, if you want to be a great dad and a surgeon, you'll figure it out. You managed to get into medical school. Use those same strengths towards these priorities too. 

That's it for today. Subscribe, share with your friends and mentors and remember to live the life that is right for you with your personality, interests and values. 
Please send your questions to me at podcast@docrobinschool.com. That's podcast at d-o-c Robin like the bird school dot com.
Show notes are available on the podcast website linked below. This episode was sponsored by Dr. Robin's School and recorded and produced in beautiful, downtown Englewood, Colorado.