29 Feb Lauren Swan: master of the ‘work-life balance’
Every medical student has been asked by family, friends, strangers on the tram, what we think we want to specialise in. Female students have been suggested they should pursue certain specialisations because they are “good careers for women”. Though it’s an old-fashioned way of looking at things, the sentiment rings true for medical students of all genders: what can we do to strike this elusive ‘work-life balance’?
Lauren Swan is a Griffith University graduate, paediatric registrar, mother, and partner. Recently Lauren started working at a paediatric tertiary centre in Brisbane, she commutes daily on the train from her home in Gold Coast. Lauren’s roots are in regional hospitals, “It’s a transition from what I’m used to”. She recommends regional work, particularly as a junior doctor, as she experienced a wide variety of paediatric cases, and more prevalent socioeconomic disadvantage. With aspirations to specialise in metabolics and clinical genetics as well as general paediatrics, Lauren needed to move to a larger centre. The new job means that cases are more complex with extended contact time, which is preferable to Lauren than having to hand patients over when conditions become complex “I’m not ED!”. She is gearing up to sit the barrier exams before advanced training, which means that on top of work, she has to study.
Flanking Lauren’s commute is childcare activities, getting her children to school and daycare, packing lunches, cooking dinner, bath, and bedtime. It is important to Lauren to be really present with the children during the time they are together. Lauren’s husband is FIFO, he works in mines in Western Australia, so he is away for two weeks at a time, followed by one week back home. Being away from each other is difficult, but when they have time together, they like to focus on family activities. Lauren has a nine-year-old son who was two when she began medical school. When her son was diagnosed with autism, the doctor said that he would “grow out of it”. Lauren was shocked; “spoiler alert, he didn’t grow out of it!”, she knew that she could do better, and explain things to parents in a more empathetic way. Though paediatrics was always on the table for Lauren, this experience helped her to know where she wanted to specialise, “(I am) really aware of the parents and what the parents are going through – Oh my gosh a spider!! – It helped, having kids.” During the interview Lauren’s three-year-old daughter, who was born just a month before final exams in her fourth year of medical school, was excitedly chatting in the background about a spider she had found. “It seemed like a really good idea at the time” Lauren says of the timing of her daughter’s birth; “but then there were complications with delivery”. Even with the difficulties, Lauren doesn’t regret the decision to have a family when she did, “you only have one life” she says, don’t put a family or partner on hold and sacrifice the things you want to do because of your career.
Women in medicine
Despite making up over half of medical graduates for more than 10 years, women are still underrepresented in most specialist clinical fields (1,2). In many competitive fields you are expected to complete more hours, which can make it difficult to integrate having a fulfilling family life, “this isn’t necessarily the truth” reassured Lauren. In paediatrics, Lauren has not experienced specific gender bias. Her male colleagues experience the same want to balance family life and career, and luckily, Lauren does not feel her career progression has been impacted by her family life. She cannot say if this is the same in other specialties. Most bias comes from those who do not have children or partners, and don’t relate. This is especially apparent in her study group, as none of the other members of the group have children; “they don’t realise I can’t drop everything (to study with them)”. Lauren suggests those who don’t have families should use empathy for our colleagues as well as patients, “Griffith students definitely have an advantage – we have Kwong”.
For Lauren, having people within the cohort who also had children, and could understand what she was going through was immensely helpful, and she encourages anyone to contact her if they ever wish to seek advice. Lauren shows that with grit, perseverance and love, future doctors of all genders can find a rewarding work life balance; “We have to be dedicated to what we do and put in the time”.
“There is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish.” – Michelle Obama.
1 – Medical Deans Australia and New Zealand. (2019). Student Statistics Report 2018-2019. Retrieved from: https://medicaldeans.org.au/data/student-statistics-reports/
2 – Walton, M. M. (2015). Sexual equality, discrimination and harassment in medicine: it’s time to act. Med J Aust; 203 (4): 167-169.