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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Fifty Different Directions

A couple of weeks ago I received this email from Alissa and am just now getting to it...

I am very interested in veterinary medicine. Helping animals has been a passion of mine since I was very young. I have been really researching the requirements and commitments being a veterinarian entails. One thing that is very important to me is having a family one day. I really would like to be involved in my child's life. Do you feel that is is very difficult to have a good family life while being a veterinarian?

I think this is relevant to what is going on in my life right now.  My wife and I are acting in Romeo & Juliet, with my wife also the costume designer and seamstress.  This coming weekend we are at a multi-genre geek convention, ConNooga, with me running things for a ministry group, Fans For Christ, and my wife directing the kids' track of about 17 events.  In my professional life I am having to both be a doctor and help manage my practice, and we are in the middle of annual performance reviews.  Also I am going to be teaching a lecture on pet behavioral issues next week and have to prepare my slide show and notes for that.  Oh, and yes, we have two children who are home-schooled and deserve our attention as well.  As you can see, we have fingers in many different pies, and to mix metaphors we are certainly trying to go in fifty different directions at the same time.

What helps is that my wife stays at home.  She has a small custom costuming business, but mostly is a homemaker and mother.  We wouldn't be able to do much with our kids if she had a full-time job also.  I normally work 10 hour days four days per week, getting home around 7:30-8:00 at night.  Lately I've been spending two of those days going straight from work to play rehearsal, not getting home until 10:00 or later.  Now admittedly these after-work activities have nothing to do with my professional life and are things I chose to do, but these are things we have to balance. 

Alissa, go back and search the archives of this blog for work-life balance topics, as I've discussed it before.  A vet's life is difficult, and you often work very long days.  You also can't always leave work right at closing, as you may have cases to finish, notes to write up, or a particularly sick pet that you have to take care of.  Let's say that you're the only doctor on duty and you have to leave RIGHT at 6:00 in order to make it to your son's piano recital.  At 4:30 the "bus unloads" and your lobby is filled with sick pets.  At 6:00 you still have two sick pets in the hospital and you can't simply say "bye" and leave.  That's part of the sacrifice of this life.  We don't have a 9-5 kind of job where you leave at quitting time.  Because lives are often at stake, you may have to stay later to stabilize a patient.  I've been late to some of my rehearsals because I have last-minute patients.  And if you work for a practice that does its own after-hours calls, you may have to go in during the middle of the night.

Balancing work and life is a real challenge.  And though this may be a controversial statement, I whole-heartedly believe that you can be 100% dedicated to your job AND 100% dedicated as a parent.  There are some times when the job trumps being with the kids and vice-versa.  You may want to do both and have every great intention, but you simply can't be in two places at once.  Because my wife is home with the kids I can be completely focused on my job, and then when I get home I can focus on my family.  I have had to miss school events and field trips because I had to work, but I wasn't as worried because my wife was there for them. 

And then there's the whole issue of whether or not you can decrease your work schedule to have a family and still justify the cost of veterinary education and training.  I blogged on that at length back in December and you can find that entry at this link.  Personally I think that female vets have it harder than men because us guys can't carry the babies or nurse.  This simple biological fact puts a lot more pressure and responsibility on the women, and may take them away from work more than a male vet.  Honeslty, the women vets out there can talk more accurately on this topic than I can.

Alissa, if you want family as your main focus, I would be cautious about a career in veterinary medicine.  Even for the fathers it's difficult to balance work and life, and this is something vets have been finding a challenge for as long as I can remember.  With changes in the profession it is becoming easier as the standard is no longer working 60-80 hours per week.  But there are still difficulties to overcome, and you have to balance daycare versus being home with the kids.  Having an involved husband who has more flexibility in his schedule is a huge help.  And I really feel for the single mothers out there, as I don't know how you gals do it.

As for my schedule, once I get through the end of next week I can finally breathe for a while!