AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 26, Number 2, 2017

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Neurosurgery and Work Life Balance: Our Family, Our Asset, Our Legacy

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Maintaining a quality family life as a neurosurgeon is definitely a challenge. In this day of quality metrics, I often wonder how we can measure the quality of our family. There are so many ways to assess how our families are doing, and I think that it is important that we never take our family’s welfare for granted.

Involvement in Family Time — A Quality Metric You Should Often Assess
Our significant others — our boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives — often contribute most to the relationship and to the family in many ways. Our days, and often part of our nights, belong to our patients. When we finally get home, we are often preoccupied with thoughts about our day, the surgeries we did and the patients we saw. For me, it usually takes a few minutes before I can refocus on what is going on at home. We try to have dinner together as a family at least four or five times a week. On weekday nights, when we are able to do this, I try to “de-brief” the kids and ask each one in turn about their day. I ask about their classes, their exams, their day. I try to help and get involved with their school projects when I can. Sometimes, I will end up going over their vocabulary homework; sometimes I will review a PowerPoint presentation for them. Recently, my son Paul made a book trailer using a Mac-based video-editing program; that was way above my computer literacy skills.

It is crucial, in my opinion, to try to stay involved in your children’s lives as much as you can. My husband Steve volunteers as a basketball coach for our daughter, Patricia, and I have routinely spent several hours helping out at her ballet rehearsals. We even hosted four adult male ballet dancers from the Donetsk ballet troupe at our home when the girls danced in the Nutcracker. Involvement in your children’s lives is a quality metric that you should often check. Every week, ask yourself if you have given each member of your family enough time. If not, try to schedule an hour or even a few minutes of alone time with that child.

For our family, we have learned to value and use vacation time as well. My husband and I have not spent much time alone but have chosen to take six weeks a year for family vacations. We often go to Jamaica in February and Florida a few times a year. We try to have fun as a family and do as much as we can with the kids when we are away. Often, we also invite their friends’ families to join, and all of us together can then have great memories with the kids. It has been so much fun over the years traveling with our friends and family. We travel to the Outer Banks in North Carolina and have rented the same house every year for the past few years. We stay with some of my cousins from Queens, N.Y., my sister and brothers and all their kids. We usually have about 18 adults and 20 kids in two houses. Those are the memories I want the kids to have forever.

Always Be a Team Player
Measuring the quality of your relationship with your significant other is also something you should do regularly. Taking that special person for granted is a mistake that can cause a relationship to suffer. Every day, let that person know that you value them, that you thank God for them, that you could not do what you do without their love and support. Be a team always. There was a time, not too many years ago, when my son did something that made me really mad. I yelled at him, and told him that he was going to lose his cell phone privileges for a month. Steve waited, and then after Paul went to his room, he asked me for a favor. He asked me if the next time I got really mad, could we talk and agree on a punishment together? Steve further explained that he really needed Paul to have his phone so that he could contact him at baseball practice and at other times. Therefore, without consulting Steve, I had doled out a punishment that was not feasible. Since then, we have had much better parenting experiences. I really value my husband’s patience and temperament: he is the rock in our family and helps hold everything together.

Balancing neurosurgery and family life is challenging. But just as often as you think about your financial assets, think more often about your family. Your family is your best asset, your most valuable treasure and your legacy. Your children will remember the time you spent with them forever, and so will you.

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