An Unintended Quest of “Having It All”

Nov 3, 2015 | Anita Saraf, MD, PhD
Career Development

As I traverse through the long road in training as a physician scientist in the field of cardiology at Emory, I am lucky to have a husband and two boys who provide balance in my life. I am not on a quest to “have it all”; I have always wanted to be a physician scientist and have been working toward that goal since college – making pro and con spreadsheets and talking with people at all stages of this career. However, most of the personal – the family part – just happened because it felt right. As a physician scientist who is still in training and well into my 30s, I could not compartmentalize my life into temporal bins of training, job and family, as I was told was the “easier” way to balance family and career. Furthermore, female physician scientists are rare, making role models are even rarer. So if there is a known formula for making this “easier”, I was unaware of it!

While every day is a routine in many ways, the challenges associated with my different roles fall across a large spectrum. As a physician scientist doing post-doctoral research with the hope of getting an academic position, I am trying to finish experiments and generate data for publication. My project is exciting, and I love what I do, even on days when my work doesn’t love me back. However, I have had to stop midway through an eight hour long experiment or abandon a time point I have worked toward for three weeks in order to pick my sick child up from day care. I have also been guilty of not returning a clinic patient’s call while I was in the middle of a long experiment and have had to make an active effort to follow up on labs and tests I ordered for patients earlier, after my children are asleep.

The struggle to allocate time to all of the things I love in life is an ongoing experiment. Having a support network certainly helps. My husband does more than his fair share as a parent, despite having a demanding full-time job himself. We are also learning to outsource simple things, such as picking the kids up from karate or a soccer game. Having a supportive cardiology department where work-life balance is encouraged has certainly made it easier for me to have frank conversations with other cardiologists and physician scientists with families. While on most days I feel that I am barely staying afloat, I would not have it any other way as I feel my career and family are enriched by each other. Rarely do science, medicine and family manage to disappoint you all at the same time. Hence, it is nice that I can turn away from one and towards another when I need a break. Someday I will finish all the training and move on to the job I desire. This will come with its own challenges and I will traverse another road less travelled.

By Anita Saraf, MD, PhD, a fellow in training at Emory University School of Medicine.