Welcome to my blog, which speaks to parents, professionals who work with children, and policy makers. I aim to show how contemporary developmental science points us on a path to effective prevention, intervention, and treatment, with the aim of promoting healthy development and wellbeing of all children and families.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

On "Composing a Life": Women Physicians Who Work Part Time

I admit I was almost stunned into silence by this past Sunday's Op Ed in the New York Times entitled Don't Quit this Day Job. A woman anesthesiologist argued that the current shortage of primary care physicians is due to women who take residency slots and then chose to work part time. She concludes her piece by saying that:
Patients need doctors to take care of them. Medicine shouldn’t be a part-time interest to be set aside if it becomes inconvenient; it deserves to be a life’s work.
I was heartened to read the array of wise letters to the editor written in response. They all identify important issues and I highly recommend reading all of them. One that I particularly admired was from a woman ER physician who wrote;
Dr. Sibert claims that “medicine shouldn’t be a part-time interest to be set aside if it becomes inconvenient.” I would argue that the same holds true for my child.
I was encouraged to formulate my own response.

About ten years ago I read a book Composing a Life by Mary Catherine Bateson, daughter of Margaret Mead. Bateson follows the lives of 7 women, including Joan Erikson, wife of Erik Erikson, who had significant careers that were shaped around their roles as spouse and mother. In the introduction she writes:
This is a book about life as improvisatory art, about the ways we combine familiar and unfamiliar components in response to new situations, following an underlying grammar and an evolving aesthetic.
As my professional life has taken many twists and turns to accommodate the needs of spouse and children, I have found it comforting and inspiring to think of this not as a burden, but rather as creation of a work of art.

As many readers of my blog know, I have just written a book, Keeping Your Child in Mind. My hope is that this book will offer validation and support to a large number of families, more than I could ever reach in my practice. Yet had I not taken these twists and turns to accommodate the needs of my family, this book would never have been written.

I have worked part time since my children were born, and took my first break from primary care to start a parenting center when my second child was born. Then when my children reached school age, my husband and I recognized that to meet the demands of swim practice, play rehearsals, dance performances and all the other things that go along with of having school age children, one of us would have to be more available. My husband is an eye doctor who runs his own practice, so it made sense that I would be the one to change.

Much as I loved doing primary care, the inflexibility and time demands of taking call were not compatible with the way we wanted to raise our children. Reluctantly I gave it up, focusing on building a behavioral pediatrics practice that did not require taking call. It was that experience that led to my writing a column for the Boston Globe entitled Mind-Altering Drugs and the Problem Child. The overwhelmingly positive response, from parents and professionals around the world, in turn led to the writing of the book.

Being a mother is both an awesome privilege and an awesome responsibility. It is in a sense the greatest act of creativity. It makes sense that women who create in this way can also create their own professional lives. By embracing this creativity, both as mothers and as professionals, we can aim to find new and important ways to contribute to society, while at the same time being present in the lives of our children in ways that support the healthy development of the next generation.

1 comment:

  1. For a different take on the causes and effects of the "Mommy Wars," check out my book, How Dysfunctional Families Spur Mental Disorders, pp. 26-36.