Every physician-mother needs to define success for herself, both personally and professionally. Here are some potential definitions: Personal health. Happiness. Peace. A healthy long-term relationship. Fertility. Close family ties. Having children. Having healthy children. Financial security. Patient satisfaction. Clinical productivity. Low procedure complication rates. Outstanding teaching evaluations. Awards. Grant funding. Publications. Academic productivity. Promotion. Tenure. Et cetera. Unlike multiple-choice tests in medical school, there is no longer only one right answer. One broad definition of success for all physician-mothers might be the achievement of our own personal definition of balance.
Before having a partner and children, you may have been understandably focused on yourself and your career. Your externally-driven ambitious goals may have been something along the lines of full professorship and 100% funding from NIH grants within five years of completing your fellowship. For many parents who are professionals in a variety of different fields, personal career success as they envisioned it before parenthood is superseded by family success. Many women physicians who are part of families, whether they have children or not, experience a paradigm shift at some point from “what is best for me and my medical training and career?” to “what is best for my family, of which I am but one member?” How do you and your partner understand your priorities and your expectations of yourself both as a physician and as a parent? Since each physician-mother will have naturally evolving priorities at different times in her personal life and professional career, so will her definitions of success continue to evolve. Regular re-evaluation of your individual and your family’s values should inform your future career decisions.
In spite of the growing numbers of women in medicine working tirelessly to improve the health of others, the current structure of medical education and careers in clinical or academic medicine is not a very healthy process for them. The days and years are long, the work is intense, and the stakes are high. One option is to take on the system and try to “conquer” it anyway. An alternative is to modify your definition of success. One physician-mother writes about how our collective failure to recognize balance as success for physician-mothers contributes to the guilt that many women physicians experience when they decide to have children and adjust career goals to accommodate their parental responsibilities (Szczech, 2008). Throughout this website, we have discussed multiple strategies for achieving your externally- and internally-driven goals in the context of the medical profession and your family. The bottom line is that you need to feel successful as you define it.