Communication Is Key for Dual Career Couples
Marriage in medicine doesn’t have to mean being wedded to your job.
That was the message from three married couples who shared tips for maintaining a happy home and healthy work-life balance at “Dual Career Couples: Making It Work,” a panel discussion sponsored by the Center for Faculty Development and Diversity, held in Carrie Hall on May 13.
As in any relationship, communication and flexibility are essential. But they can be especially vital when making career choices about residencies, fellowships and other professional opportunities.
“Narrow your life down so you know what’s important—who’s important,” said E.J. Caterson, MD, PhD, medical director of Craniofacial Surgery in the Division of Plastic Surgery, whose wife, Stephanie Caterson, MD, is director of BWH’s Perforator Flap Breast Reconstruction Program in Plastic Surgery.
“When I look at what we’ve done in our careers, it all pales in comparison to caring for our three children on a daily basis,” he added. “You have to really focus on that—it makes you a better physician when you’re a better parent, husband or wife.”
With hectic schedules and three young boys, the Catersons use nannies to cover all their bases. But when it was just the two of them, the couple spent time apart in different cities at various points in their careers—a fact of life for many married physicians. Stephanie recalled making Excel spreadsheets to weigh pros and cons, along with detailed rankings, to evaluate different locations for the fellowships E.J. was considering. He ultimately chose one in New York, largely due to its proximity to Boston.
“It’s impossible to figure things out easily, so the communication part was huge,” Stephanie said. “We talked a lot about what it would mean to live apart and where he could go. In the end, it was a fantastic year for us.”
That also rang true for Louis Nguyen, MD, MBA, MPH, FACS, director of Vascular Surgery Clinical and Outcomes Research. He and his wife, Cassandra Kelleher, MD, of Pediatric Surgery at MGH, spent time apart while Nguyen completed a fellowship. They agreed never to pressure one person to relocate if there weren’t good jobs for both of them.
“You have to decide with your partner what the balance is,” Nguyen said. “I tend to never say no to jobs, but we have an explicit agreement that I can’t take another consulting job or title unless she says I can,” he joked.
Nguyen and his wife, who was unable to attend the panel, rely on day care and an au pair who lives with them and cares for their children before and after school. The couple has used nannies in the past, but ran into scheduling challenges when Nguyen or Kelleher would unexpectedly have a late case, or a snowstorm prevented the nanny from getting to work on time.
“This works well for us because we cannot be late to surgery. We have to be out the door at 6:30 a.m.,” Nguyen said.
Liza Colimon, MD, of the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, recalled how she had to pass on fellowship opportunities and job offers out of state at various times in her career because she knew those moves weren’t the best fit for her husband, James Reginald Colimon, MBA, who works in Intergovernmental Relations as Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s liaison to the City Council. She delayed her fellowship training in minimally invasive surgery until they felt the time was right.
Colimon and her husband, who have two children, ages 6 and 10, don’t have any family locally who can regularly help with child care, nor do they have any hired care providers at home. They decided they preferred to be the primary care providers for their children whenever possible and set their work schedules to maximize time spent with their children.
“Not every major life event has to happen at the time that you have predetermined in your mind,” Liza said. “We have to be that precise as physicians, but life is about the journey and being open.”
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