Is There a Right Time? Figuring Out Family as an Early Career Cardiologist

Finding a balance between career and family is challenging. After years of medical training, we become full-fledged doctors and realize that other life events are happening simultaneously. As colleagues who trained together and stayed at the same institution for our careers, we find that trainees ask us for guidance on "the best time" to prioritize their personal milestones. Navigating these topics is difficult early on, when we are more likely to prioritize career goals over personal growth. This experience can be vastly different for everyone, and we'd like to offer our perspectives on how to approach this important topic.

Have personal milestones come up in your career and how did you approach them?

Sam: I got married during my first year as an attending, moved out of New York City and commuted to Cornell. Marriage has taught me that prioritizing my spouse's personal goals is just as important. I remember discussing moving and I respected my wife's reasons for wanting to remain in the suburbs to build our own family. I have slowly adjusted to the longer commute and have learned to structure my schedule to fit my academic needs.

Pritha: I had my daughter in my third year of fellowship. I felt this was the best time to start my family, when all my clinical rotations were completed and I could finesse practicing cardiology while also being a new mom. Prior to this, I spoke to several women colleagues on how to approach bringing a child into the mix. I listened intently and took elements of their stories to help me navigate my own career.

How do you suggest early career cardiologists map out their career and personal goals?

Sam: Write down your personal and academic goals. It is so easy to "go with the flow" and then several years in, you realize that you are not giving the appropriate commitment to both family and career. Just like how we keep checklists for our clinical tasks, it is important to schedule and create checklists for family, with room for adjustments when life throws you curveballs!

Pritha: Be clear about your priorities in career and family. When faced with choices, ask yourself: "In ten years, what will I be most proud of? Does this decision help me get there?" I ask myself if this helps me in my career AND my role as mom. If you have a partner, discuss a timeline for both of you and factor in your professional endeavors. There is no "right" time to factor in personal goals; it is more about committing and being flexible as you go along.

What advice have you received about balancing your personal goals?

Pritha: The best advice I received was that not everything in a career has to be linear. This was one of my biggest concerns: feeling "behind" in the workplace, while tackling motherhood. I would tell cardiologists who are moms to build your village to help you succeed. For fathers in early career - do not be afraid to ask for dedicated time off. Though it is hard to get this recognition and respect across all institutions, paternity leave should be a standard part of our career paths.

Sam: The best advice I received from mentors about building a family along with your academic goals, is that you have to be intentional about making family a priority, or you get consumed by career demands and lose sight of the bigger picture. For example, take the full allotted time off for family leave you have, it's an important time to dedicate to your family without having work in the background.

Do you find it easy to create boundaries at work when your personal matters take priority?

Sam: I find this the hardest part of being an attending. We are often told that the first year of attending-life is the hardest due to the steep learning curve, but I have found subsequent years have more competing demands from both work and family. I've tried to emulate my women colleagues who take maternity leave and create those boundaries. My typical response to most requests for workload is, "I feel like I should say yes," but I am learning to reframe it to, "I have a choice and no is also acceptable."

Pritha: Mydaughter was one year old around the time I became an attending, and this gave me the opportunity to create boundaries at work early on. I value patient care; however, I knew my child was also a priority for me. Especially as women cardiologists, we worry about how we are perceived for prioritizing our family. I have learned to ask for what you need and see how your division leaders respond to you.

Samuel Kim, MD, FACC
Pritha Subramanyam, MD

This article was written by Samuel Kim, MD, FACC, and Pritha Subramanyam, MD, early career general cardiologists at New York-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center. Dr. Kim has a focus in preventive cardiology and clinical lipidology; Dr. Subramanyam has a focus in preventive cardiology, lipidology, and the impact of nutrition on cardiovascular health.

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