Scalpel's Edge

A surgeon's notes

Dear non-medical research colleague

Please don’t be insulted.

When I say that yours is a 9 to 5 job, it is not to say that you really work 9 to 5 every day. It is to say that you don’t work 7am until 10pm.

When I say that you don’t work weekends, it is not to say that you never work weekends. It is to say that you don’t work every second weekend, at someone else’s behest.

When I say that your job is flexible, it is not to say that it is part time, or light weight. It is to say that you can have a day off, and not have to worry about a colleague being sued because she is covering your patients and is unable to cope. It is to say that you can choose to leave early if you have a special event, and not have to stay far beyond your rostered hours to save your patient when you don’t trust the cover resident.

When I say that your job is low in stress, it is not to say that you don’t have the same issues as everyone else. I know you have trouble finding employment, and tenure, and your job can be dissolve by a failed grant application. But stress can be about more than job security. When you have three patients coding, and your pager is beeping, you realise that the failure of an experiment is just wasted time, not stress. When you are visited by the ghosts of your failures in the middle of the night, then you can tell me about your stress.

Please don’t be insulted. I value your research and your contribution to the health of many. But I will continue to advise my medical colleagues to consider full time research to experience a more flexible lifestyle. You will never convince me.

5 responses to “Dear non-medical research colleague”

  1. dragonfly says:

    Is that a reason why you did a phD (apart from career, academic challenge, advancing medicine etc etc) while your kiddies are small? In the event that I ever get family-ed up it is something I have thought about doing.

  2. Cris says:

    @dragonfly: I decided to do research and have kids as two independent decisions. Part of the reason I wanted to do research was to have a different lifestyle for a while. It turns out that has fit in well with having young kids, and the flexibility required. However, having maternity leave during my PhD has extended my specialty training hugely. So I have lost contact with my peers, and I will have to go through the process of having my training time extended.

    A male surgeon once told me there would be an easy way to have kids and a surgical career, but I am less hopeful of that, now. Everything is a compromise. I now have to return to registrar training and suddenly stop seeing my kids as mush (when I say now, I actually mean in approximately 2 millennia). The grass is always greener. This way certainly has some advantages when your kids are small. However, it isn’t perfect, and don’t let anyone suggest that there is a perfect solution.

    That answer sounded a bit darker than I meant it to…

  3. enrico says:

    I agree w/DrCris, it’s all about compromise all the time. Period. Had things gone as planned, I would be entering a residency next year with my daughter at 3. She’d see very little of me compared to med school, but it would be all over in a few years, with the worst of it a distant memory by the time she grows up.

    Now things are completely topsy turvy, not only with school but my life. Do I not go back and finish school even if I have to repeat my courses because now I’m embarking anew on this at her being 3? Do I lament what could have been to the point of paralysis?

    Believe it or not, those are not rhetorical questions. They might seem that way from an objective outsider’s POV only taking into account what’s “sensible,” but emotions have far more power to cloud things than you realize when you’re in the thick of it.

    If I can add anything to the comment exchange, it’s simply that whether it’s academic or life, you WILL have to make choices that don’t look neat in “pro/con” tables, and life will throw you a curve ball (if you’re lucky–it can do far worse than that) when you least expect it. So expect it. 🙂

  4. […] from Scalpel’s Edge shares a personal letter spelling out her point of view on the differences between non-MD researchers and physician-scientists. (she also has great tips on preparing medical […]

  5. Cris says:

    @enrico: I keep returning to this theme in my life. Turns out there is no easy path – everything is about compromise. I have decided now just to make a conscious decision to decide what is most important to me, and then arrange the other stuff around it.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. I think it is hard from the outside to see how difficult this stuff can be.

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