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Education and Training
With Good Juggling Skills, M.D.s Can Have It All
Psychiatric News
Volume 39 Number 9 page 39-39

Success in academic psychiatry and success in parenthood don’t have to be mutually exclusive, according to residency directors and senior faculty members who have experienced fulfillment in both roles.

They came together to discuss the art of juggling professional responsibilities and parenting in a seminar titled "Work-Family Balance for Psychiatry Residents and Faculty: Problems and Solutions" at the annual meeting of the American Association of Directors of Psychiatric Residency Training in New Orleans in March.

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From left: Joyce Tinsley, M.D., Lorency Fernando, M.D., Florence Eddins-Folensbee, M.D., Laura Roberts, M.D., and Geri Fox, M.D.

"People are constantly sneaking out of work to deal with issues at home, such as a sick child," she added. "What are you supposed to do?"

After joining the psychiatry faculty at the University of Illinois, Fox had two children. With the birth of her first child, she said, she reduced her work hours until she was working at 60 percent of her prior, full-time schedule. She has maintained that 60 percent time commitment for 15 years.

"I’m lucky to have been able to arrange my career so I can be there when my children get home from school," Fox noted.

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In contrast, she said, "Although I have made significant contributions as an educator, clinician, and administrator, I have sometimes felt like I wasn’t the real thing in academics, because I was not also conducting research."

In efforts to help working mothers to advance professionally, Fox proposed that the university adopt a prorated tenure track, which would allow "parents to deliberately plan a productive academic career, while simultaneously dedicating significant time to their growing family."

The track would permit faculty to work on a part-time basis yet still receive tenure, only on a delayed schedule.

"You can do it all," she observed, "just not at once."

A flexible schedule has also helped Florence Eddins-Folensbee, M.D., to balance her work and family roles. Eddins-Folensbee is an associate professor of psychiatry and director of child and adolescent psychiatry training at Baylor University College of Medicine.

As a mother of four children ranging in age from 5 to 15, Eddins-Folensbee works at 65 percent of a full-time schedule and works from home when necessary.

"I get some of my work done after my kids go to bed at night," she said.

She also said she can work additional hours some weeks and fewer hours during others, depending on circumstances at home and at work.

Her personal digital assistant has been an indispensable tool in her life, she added—"I can receive and send e-mail while waiting in carpool lines," she said. Also helpful is the support of her coworkers. "I have wonderful colleagues who have been very supportive of me."

Laura Roberts, M.D., a professor and chair of psychiatry at the Medical College of Wisconsin, is also a mother of four children.

"I’ve heard myths that you can’t be a physician and a mother, or that you can’t have children and be promoted," she said.

For Roberts, it has been important to keep her professional life separate from her personal life. "Some people take their kids to work or hold meetings in their homes," she noted. Although she admits to having done this in the past, "At this point, it needs to be clear that my work time is my work time, and my home time is my home time," with the exception of working a bit during the evenings, she added.

During her career, Roberts obtained several research grants from the National Institutes of Health, which helped her gain "external validity," she said. "I gained the respect and esteem of my colleagues."

In addition, the grant money enabled her to "buy freedom" in terms of having a flexible schedule.

As leaders in psychiatry, she said, "it is incumbent upon us to build structures in which psychiatrists can become whole people."

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The experience of becoming a parent can be quite jarring to some residents or faculty members, noted Joyce Tinsley, M.D., who is director of psychiatry residency and addiction residency training at the University of Connecticut Health Center.

For women who have dedicated the better part of their lives to their careers, Tinsley said, "it can come as a shock that there is more to life" than work. Some may realize there has been a dissonance in the way they have lived their lives, Tinsley noted, and may ask themselves, "Am I really just about this career?"

Tinsley recalled the words of a former resident who told her, "I can’t believe the sheer pleasure I get from holding my baby."

"It’s my job as a training director," Tinsley explained, "to reassure residents who become new parents that they are in the process of integrating two roles."

For example, one of her residents was preparing for a career in research when she became pregnant with twins. "Part of my job is to help her think through ways to be a parent and a researcher," Tinsley noted.

Lorency Fernando, M.D., relied on the support of her training director when she became pregnant with her second child during her residency.

Now, as a PGY-4 resident in the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine, she recalled that her training director, "was very supportive," she said.

Fernando, who already had a two-year-old son when she joined the residency program, discussed rotation and call schedules with her training director and fellow residents.

The months following the birth of her second child were tiring, she acknowledged, "but with planning, it was possible." ▪

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From left: Joyce Tinsley, M.D., Lorency Fernando, M.D., Florence Eddins-Folensbee, M.D., Laura Roberts, M.D., and Geri Fox, M.D.

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