Work-time balance might be understood as the time you spend doing your job compared to the time you spend with your loved ones and doing things that you enjoy. This concept becomes tricky when it enters the realm of medicine. Long working hours and unpredictability in the course of work can make this balance go off track among doctors. When it comes to parenting, the balance between work and personal life becomes all the more important. However, doctors, especially mom doctors often struggle in finding a balance between the two.
Mom's guilt is a feeling of not doing enough for one's kids. While all working women experience it at some point in time, it very often affects doctor moms who try to keep up with their parental responsibilities alongside erratic work schedules, long working hours and the unpredictable nature of work.
As per a study conducted by Pristyn Care and Lybrate data labs, 65% of doctor moms experience the pressures of burnout while striving to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Furthermore, over 50% of these dedicated professionals struggle to find time for themselves, leaving little room for self-care and rejuvenation. Additionally, a substantial 41% of doctor moms have experienced workplace discrimination based on their dual roles as doctors and mothers.
The study involved more than 500 doctors across the country who are also mothers.
When examining their work schedules, the data shows that an average of 63% of doctors work for 8 to 12 hours daily, impacting their ability to achieve satisfactory work-life harmony. In response to these challenges, 61% of respondents express a preference for flexible work hours, recognizing the need for a supportive and adaptable work environment. Moreover, around 20% emphasize the importance of mental health support as a valuable resource.
On the occasion of Mother's Day 2023, Healthsite.com spoke to some doctor moms who shared their experiences of juggling between the roles of a mother and a healthcare provider in their day-to-day lives.
You may like to read
"We will have to carry work back home"
Dr Soumya Jagadeesan, Associate Professor, of Dermatology at Amrita Hospital (Kochi) expressed her journey of motherhood while she kept on growing in her career as a doctor. The doctor explained that the line between work and life is all the more blurred in medicine. She said there is nothing like 'logging off in her career.
She said: "As a doctor, there are many other things you have to do apart from looking after patients. Many times, you might be involved in teaching or doing research-based work. Updating is also an important task each day. All these things cannot be done within the time window of our active working hours. We have no choice but to carry our work back home."
Missing out on growing milestones
Dr Jagadeesan shared her experiences of feeling the 'mom's guilt' in her early days of motherhood. She explained that many young women doctors become mothers when they are in their residency phase. She said that delegation of duties is the only way out for many women doctors who are still students when they become mothers.
She said: "We as doctors often encourage our patients to practice 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding but the irony is we often fail at it in our personal lives. Both my deliveries happened when I was a resident, a phase of medicine when you are on calls 24/7 and you are practicing under senior doctors. You do get a lot of assistance from your loved ones but sometimes you do miss out on those growing milestones that no parent would ever want to miss out on. This naturally induces a lot of guilt in us. As our children start to grow up, they start to understand our roles better as healthcare providers and develop an empathetic understanding of our situation at work."
'Sometimes as a doctor mom, you will have to let down your child'
As Jagadeesan spoke on burnout among doctor moms, she said medicine by its very nature is unpredictable. There are no fixed timetables, in her words. She explained how unexpected health crises at work can put off their planning in a jiffy and leave them all exhausted when they reach back home. The dermatologist shared how she and her husband try to follow a 'rotational' system when it comes to attending parent-teacher meetings or events where their children might be participating in. However, some days things don't happen the way they might want them to happen.
She said: "On some days, as a doctor mom you will have to let down your child. There are days when an unmissable medical conference will clash with some event that your children might be participating in."
Many of us could have been more
The dermatologist also commented on how the difficulty in balancing the two roles as a doctor and a mother can affect their career choices.
She said: "I have seen many women colleagues compromising on their potential in medicine. Some are capable of becoming superspecialists but familial responsibilities might push them to pick up alternatives that are comparatively easy like radiology, dermatology and other non-clinical roles."
Being a mother makes us better healers
Counting some positives, Jagadeesan said: "There is one thing that puts us at an advantage at our workplace and that is motherhood makes us better doctors. It could be the other way around as well. Both situations complement each other. We become better healers, we understand the needs of our patients well. We develop this natural empathy towards them."
You can be anything with your mother, you need her to feel free
Dr Saritha Sekhar, Associate Professor and Consultant Interventional Cardiologist at Amrita Hospital, (Kochi) is a mother to a 20-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter. The senior cardiologist shared her experiences of what it is like being a doctor mother.
Dr Sekhar explained that delegation of duties to others and getting help from loved ones can make things easier for them but there are far more things a mother has to do than just providing their kids with the bare minimum. One of them, she said, is character development.
She said a child in their early phases of life wishes to spend a lot of time with their mothers who might help them in seeing the world, helping them figure out what's right and what is not. She said that this is one role only a mother can play.
Sekhar explained that a mother is the only person in the world to whom you can show an entire range of emotions from love to anger. Her absence can make you feel suffocated, sometimes.
She said: "I know when I come back home from work, my kids are desperate to express everything they might have felt that day. However, the exhaustion I carry back from work can sometimes make me less receptive to their expression.
"I have shouted at them for minimum provocation. I never wished to do that"
Dr Sekhar shared a memory of her children telling her once, "Amma can you please come back in a good mood, this can make us happy".
The cardiologist explained that in medicine, mental and physical exhaustion is an inevitable part of your life. Most doctors come back home completely drained. Long working hours and unpredictability can easily lead to burnout. She said, however, ideally as mothers you are expected to meet your child with the same energy with which you might have left the house early in the morning. In real-time, this is not humanly possible, she said.
She said: "I have shouted at my kids for minimum provocation, for expressions that could have been tackled with milder emotions. When I used to make them sleep and think back about my reaction that day, it was then when guilt used to creep inside me for not being able to manage my emotions well. Sometimes, your kids want you for seemingly small errands like going with them for stationary shopping. These are small things but to a mother, they mean the world. Many of us have missed out on these things occasionally, the experience of being with our child while they make those small decisions."
Food takeaways have made our lives easy
Dr Sekhar shared that every mother identifies with the role of a nurturer, even if they might be working in the most hectic situations. Food is one way, she says, through which we can deliver that warm nourishment to our child. However, many times due to long working hours, cooking every day doesn't come easy for many doctor moms.
She said: "While as mothers we always desire to give them home-cooked food but we are tightly bounded by time and there are days when we just can't cook. It is a great blessing that today we have these food takeaways which I am sure have made the lives of all working women a little easy than before."
We must ask for help
Dr Sekhar said that working women must not hesitate in asking for help. The cardiologist emphasized healthy coping mechanisms and how they can make lives easier for women who are mothers and at the same time hold other roles in the society.
She said: "The moment I anticipate that there might be many surgeries lined up for the day, I promptly sound my house helper. This early planning and delegation of duty make things easy for both me and my kids. At night when I shall head back, I just have to heat the food and serve it fresh. It is never bad to ask for help when you need it."
You can't do it all
Dr Sekhar explained that working mothers cannot take up every responsibility. Some priority settings and selectiveness have to be exercised from time to time. In her words, no human being can do everything even if parenting is under consideration.
The cardiologist shared her mantra of juggling between her work life and her life with her kids. She said: "First pick up things which if you don't do, nobody else would be able to do for your kids."
This method, according to her, can make it easy for mothers to choose roles wisely from a pool of responsibilities and can make this game of juggling less overwhelming. The doctor also emphasized the importance of delegating duties to people who can help them.
She said: "If I look after my children's studies, I make sure that I attend their parent-teacher meetings. If my husband goes in my place, the message will get lost in the translation because naturally, he is not the one involved in the process. Similarly, my husband loves to travel, so we love him taking the lead in sorting out places where we can go for a vacation, booking tickets and doing all other arrangements. In this area of parenting, I take a back seat."
Need for mom-friendly policies in health sector?
Dr Garima Sawhney, co-founder and gynaecologist, at Pristyn Care, said, "Motherhood is a beautiful journey but at the same time, it can be overwhelming. The study conducted by our organization aimed to assess how doctor-moms balance their work and personal lives. We looked at how many hours they work, their preferences for work schedules, time spent on self-care, and their views on HR policies. Almost 80% of them felt that the workplace should provide support and resources specifically for doctor moms. This brings us to the importance of having mom-friendly policies in the healthcare sector."
As per the study, only 35% of doctor-moms are completely satisfied with their work-life balance. Regarding workplace policies, 61% revealed that they would prefer flexible work hours, while around 20% would prefer mental health support.
Don't forget yourself in the juggle
In her closing statements, Dr Garima said: "Whatever our professional roles might be, we are mothers and we will naturally think all the time whether our children are safe or having good food. For many of us in gynaecology, surgery, cardiology and other clinical fields, the day is highly unpredictable. However, I would encourage all doctor moms to not forget themselves in this process. While we keep on juggling our professional and personal lives, we also have to take care of ourselves. It is rather non-negotiable for working mothers to do a thing or two for themselves each day. It could be sleeping or meditation or any other recreational activity.