Impact of future lifestyle on choice of specialization – Do you agree with these doctors?

Impact of future lifestyle on choice of specialization

We often hear that medicine is the most difficult profession, and we feel proud of ourselves each time we come across those words. Well, we have all the reasons to be proud! After all, don’t we, as physicians, put in all our abilities (and more) to help and heal our patients? But let’s admit it, at times we also want to take time off work, whether it is to spend quality time with the family, attend our kids’ graduation, take a week-long vacation to France, or simply relax at home.

While some forms of specialization allow a more balanced work and personal life, others demand really long and grueling working hours. We asked some fellow Doctors Patch physicians if they considered future lifestyle as a factor when selecting their specialization. While some gave a lot of importance to lifestyle, others didn’t let it influence their professional choices.

“I didn’t really think about lifestyle considerations when I chose orthopedic surgery” said Dr Barbara Bergin, a board certified orthopedic surgeon. “I chose the thing I enjoyed most in medical school. Turns out it’s probably one of the hardest and most exhausting residencies and lifestyles, physically and mentally. Most of us take a lot of emergency room calls to get our practices built. And this occurs at the time we are starting families. For women, this is particularly difficult, and especially so if your husband is also equally busy. My husband is a nephrologist, and we both were swamped with work from the get go. Sometimes both of us were out on call all night long at the same time.”

But, Dr. Bergin doesn’t regret the decision at all. She continued “Of course we needed a lot of support from family and nannies. But being busy doing what you love is important, and trust me, your children don’t just know this, they also respect it. No matter what your career choices are, you’re likely to be very busy when you’re younger. Although some other specialties do lend themselves to more part-time work with more predictable hours, but doing something you don’t love…even part-time, would be an unhappy thing.”

Dr Amrita Basu, an ENT Surgeon had a slightly different viewpoint -“3 things were important to me when I chose my specialization – First, I should be able to enjoy studying and practicing that particular field of medicine. Second, he speciality should offer me a niche which has scope for further expertise, without necessarily needing more degrees or super-specialization to do well. Finally, it should warrantee a patient load with which I could have a family life.”

Dr Basu is a mother to a 4 year old, and she is  glad to have chosen ENT Surgery. “I plan my surgeries and engagements around my daughter’s school activities. ENT has emergencies too, like a bleeding nose, respiratory distress, sudden hearing loss, etc. But mostly our specialization has a lot of elective procedures that can be planned. I personally feel that doctors the world over are overburdened and stretched to their limits. This comes from trying to do too much. Not only we become irritable and unfriendly, we also lose the ability to give hope. Patients come to us to get healed. When we as doctors are unhappy, we are not able to give our best to the patient. And that’s what makes me feel taking lifestyle into consideration while opting for a specialization helps!”

Dr Mani Pavitra, an Orthodontist, had a similar view – “I chose to be a dentist as in this field I do not have to rush to too many emergencies. Also, it gives me the freedom to schedule appointments as per my convenience. And that is why I love being an orthodontist. I get to live my professional life, my family life, and my passions fully.”

What a lot of medical students don’t realize is that they’ll be stuck with the speciality for a very long time (likely, all their life). So, it is really important to pick the right one. Dr Jared Heathman, a child psychiatrist, is big believer in selecting the right speciality. He said “Lifestyle significantly affected my decision to choose a medical specialty, and I specifically recommend that medical students consider this as well. It is incredibly difficult to change specialties in medicine, so I advise students to evaluate all aspects of each specialty. Some people prefer to be on their feet and active throughout the day, while others are night owls that detest early mornings. As your chosen field may partly dictate your lifestyle, it is important to evaluate your life preferences in regards to a typical schedule in each field.”

And, medical students do have some options when making their choices. According to Dr Heathman “Most medical students find enjoyment in at least a couple of fields, so comparing lifestyles between the fields makes a lot of sense. The goal is to find a specialty you enjoy that also maximizes your enjoyment in life outside of work.”

Dr Alina Baciu, a general surgery resident decided to let the heart rule over the head, and went after what fascinated her the most. With a smile, she comments “Ever since my first year of university, I was considering becoming a General Surgeon. The specialization fascinated me and I found myself gravitating towards it at an alarming pace with each passing day. Yet, I had numerous worries regarding my choice. I knew very well that it is a very demanding specialization since it often implies working 80 hours a week. Not to mention that a surgeon’s day is not always predictable. You have to be able to thrive under pressure, be creative, patient, willing to continue learning even during your free time and also be mindful of your own physical and mental health.”  

Although in agreement with the general consensus that a surgeon may not be able to have a predictable family life due to the long hours and taxing nature of work, Dr Baciu adds “I did take into consideration the fact that having children while striving to become the best in my field would be a complicated balancing act. There are plenty of other satisfying medical specializations that are indeed less time consuming and are just as satisfying on a personal level. Yet, when you’re doing the thing you love most in the world, those long hours fly by. I truly believe that because I spend what others would consider too much time at work, I can enjoy the time I have with my family more.”

While most others were following their passions and considering their lifestyles while opting for a specialization, Dr Jacob DeLaRosa, chief of cardiac surgery at Portneuf Medical Center, was following the footsteps of his inspiration — Dr Jim Pluth. He proudly says “When I decided that I wanted to specialize in cardiac surgery, I never took into consideration how much time, or on call time or effort it would take. I made the decision of being a cardiac surgeon after I had the opportunity to work with a leader in the field from the Mayo clinic, Dr. Jim Pluth. I saw his dedication to patient care and he truly cared about what he was doing and how he affected life. It was then that I knew that I wanted to do the same. As the chief of cardiac surgery I’m on call 24/7. I am always available to patients and or to anyone who has a question or needs a hand. It is a choice that I made and how I practice medicine. I live in Pocatello, Idaho and I have dedicated myself to this community and to providing world-class healthcare in a small city, an almost rural environment. There is nothing more satisfying than hearing from people in the community how you have helped the city grow, and how you’re appreciated being in the community as a family member. That is priceless!”

Dr. Jachenshad an altogether different approach and mindset while opting for ophthalmology. He says “Doctors choose their medical specialty for different reasons. I chose ophthalmology based on several different factors. The science of ocular optics and the technological advancement in the field is unparalleled to other specialties. Having the gratification of restoring or giving sight to people with precise microscopic surgery creates amazing doctor-patient relationships. Also, being able to have long term relationships with patients and their entire families is unique to ophthalmology and not available in most surgical fields.”

Although it was not a consideration at that time, he does feel that ophthalmology is one field where the doctors can be as busy, or as relaxed as they wish to be.  “In ophthalmology, though there are middle of the night emergencies, even in private practice, most of your work is done during normal business hours. You can tailor your schedule to be as demanding as you wish by taking on academic appointments, trauma calls, staffing resident cases, or just work on growing your own private practice. This allows one to have more flexibility when it comes to scheduling and you are able to take time off when needed. It is also one of the more lucrative fields of medicine for the obvious reason that people value and cherish their eyesight. Patients expect that eye care, especially eye surgery, should not be a place for them to become irrationally budget conscious. All these factors make ophthalmology a very rewarding professional choice that also allows for a healthy work/life balance” he adds.

Do you agree with these doctors? Does it remind you of the factors you considered when choosing a specialization? Was lifestyle one of them? Please share your thoughts in comments.