I am a single mother, live in Manhattan, love to cook, and am learning to play the guitar. I knit, bike, and travel. I subscribe to the Buddhist philosophy and practice transcendental meditation. I love to write. And oh, I'm also a pediatrician by trade. I value my job because my experiences with children and parents, in health and sickness, teach me a lot about life and the important things in it. However, unlike many of my contemporaries, my job remains a small, albeit integral, portion of my life and identity.
I've always known I wouldn't do well with a 9-5, five-day/week schedule (or for most primary care physicians, an 8-6, five- or six-day/week schedule). I thrive in a non-conventional environment, and bore easily if I do the same thing over and over again. So after residency, in order to determine what works for me, I took on a series of jobs. I worked as a hospitalist (a physician who manages patients admitted to the hospital), subbed as a clinic pediatrician for someone's three-month maternity leave, worked the overnight shift at a teaching hospital, and moonlighted in a large academic children's hospital emergency room. I liked the flexibility in schedule (most of these jobs are shift work - day, evening, and overnight), and discovered I needed the support and camaraderie of similarly-minded pediatricians. Then, as these things go, I became pregnant, even though I had not planned on starting a family for several years. After my son was born, I knew I needed to find a private practice job, rather than continuing to do shift work: its flexibility in schedule I so liked now became a crutch in finding consistent and reliable child care.
I began to look for part-time pediatrician positions at private practices. I would take care of children from birth to college, embarking on this journey along with the parents and patients I meet.
Fast forward 5 years later, I now have the ideal schedule. I have since joined a small private practice in Manhattan, working three days a week, and I continue to moonlight in the pediatric emergency room. I get to make my own ER schedule, at roughly one shift a week. I enjoy the variety of patients I get to see in the ER, while knowing that I have the stability of a private practice schedule. On the two weekdays I do not work, I am a stay-at-home-mom. I volunteer at my son's school, do pick-up, host play dates, chaperone school trips, give my son Mandarin lessons, and have time to cook dinner and make lunch. In the summer time, the benefit of this flexible schedule is most apparent: I alter my schedule at the practice to allow for a 4-day weekend every week between 4th of July and Labor Day, and rarely work in the ER.
Because of my unorthodox combination of part-time job and shift work, I am able to balance my life and find time to do the things I truly enjoy. Because I do not follow the conventional arc of a pediatrician's career, I have the fluidity in defining my role as a doctor, advisor, teacher, and student to parents and their children. After all, each of us aim to live happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives. And together, we try our best to teach our children to do the same. –Cheryl Wu MD