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Posted By Lisa Zak-Hunter, Thursday, August 9, 2012
Throughout our lives there are times when we realize the permanency or magnitude of the change we’re experiencing. I’ve had the great honor (or horror?) of going through a few of these watershed moments in a relatively short time. Yikes! The first moment was during a very positive conversation at the end of a 2 day interview for the job I now hold. I had somehow managed to survive the cross-country interview at 9 months pregnant and was beginning to see that my patience through two years of job hunting was likely going to be rewarded. Fast forward 2 weeks to what turned out to be my last pregnancy check-up. After informing me I was about a week away from labor, the midwife returned and said I needed to go home and rest because they were going to induce me in a few hours. Three months and one bundle of joy later, I was sitting in orientation for my new job, in a new state, with a new baby. My identity as ‘pregnant woman’ had become ‘mom’ and my identity as ‘graduate student’ was suddenly ‘faculty’. I’m acutely aware of the process I’m undergoing to integrate these new and monumental roles and the challenges this presents.

Integrating the various personal and professional opportunities feels like being at an all you can eat buffet with a salad plate. There are many options--almost too many. As a parent, there is a ridiculous amount of choices for child toys, room décor, clothes, schooling, activities etc. Then, there is what all the experts (from the other parent at the grocery store to the child development specialist) say is the ‘best’ way to raise a child. There are child and parent personalities intermingled in family dynamics. Within this framework, a parent entangles how to do best by their child. Throughout the day, I pay attention to whether our daily activities best capitalize on my child’s current development and appropriately support and challenge her growth. I get bombarded by parenting newsletters and emails with suggestions that further enhance my choices for child rearing. It’s exhilarating and exhausting.
An intersection of motherhood and work: new baby, new office furniture.

An intersection of motherhood and work:

New baby, new office furniture.

Establishing myself as a professional is no different. There are so many different opportunities that were not afforded to me as a graduate student. I am torn between loving the newfound freedom of ‘new professional’ and yearning for the security of ‘graduate student’. Now, I feel more in control of my work load and what I decide to busy myself with during the day. I have more choices and the freedom to make them. Yet, the lack of constant accountability is unsettling. If I need to leave in the middle of the day for a meeting, I inform my colleagues, realizing full well this is a courtesy on my part. If I were to not show up for class, not only would my professor wonder, but my fellow students would as well. I can guarantee someone would be checking in to see where I was.

I am also learning how to prove myself and my abilities. As a young woman, mother, and mental health professional working in medicine, I see how some of the cards are stacked against me. I try to anticipate questions and assumptions about my profession and personhood while learning the culture of my new work environment. Despite my preparation, I have been asked if I plan to continue working full time or if I will work part time to care for my child/future children. The question seems innocent, but I doubt someone would ask a male physician the same. I have also been mistaken for a resident and support staff. On the other hand, I have been encouraged to be selfish about my career and focus on activities that enhance my professional development. Some of the physicians introduce me to others as Dr. Zak-Hunter instead of Lisa. I have spoken with faculty who are excited about what I offer the residency and are interested the small changes I’d like to make within my first month or so of hire. I have plans for my advancement and am learning who to contact to get started.

Then, there is the intersection of these two roles. I have had more time to develop my role as ‘mom’ than ‘faculty’. Because of that, I am more cognizant of how being mom affects my new position, instead of vice versa. I missed the first new resident meeting that the behaviorists run because my daughter’s doctor was late. I wondered what type of impression I was leaving and how missing a meeting may impact my relationship with the residents. I also love getting texts and voicemails about how my baby’s doing during the day. It helps me stay connected with her. Sometimes I worry that others may perceive it as taking away from my work- even though it takes about 5-10 minutes of my day. I also wonder how supportive the fast-paced nature of medicine will be over time when I continue to take a few daily breaks to keep my milk supply up. Nursing is important to me, but how will this priority impact others’ views of my competency and collaborative abilities? These uncertainties are reflective of my personal struggles to adjust, integrate, and confidently own these new roles.

All together, this is a time of great change and opportunity. I walk the line between feeling the need to charge forth with confidence and retreat into my office, uncertain which of my ideas are valued and how to present them. I enjoy having the best of both worlds. Despite some of my uncertainty and desire to establish myself, I am excited by what each day holds. I have a fairly clear idea of my personal and professional goals and how to achieve them. So, as I stand at the big buffet, I decide that I am not limited to that salad plate. There’s a variety of dishes from which to choose. I simply need to decide what I am in the mood for that day and how it will come together to create a balanced diet over time.


Lisa Zak-Hunter, PhD is behavioral science faculty with the Via Christi Family Medicine Residency in Wichita, KS. She earned her PhD in Child and Family Development, specializing in Marriage and Family Therapy, from the University of Georgia.

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Randall Reitz says...
Posted Thursday, August 23, 2012
Thanks for the great post Lisa! May your efforts to balance life and work prove fruitful. It is probably the most important and meaningful challenge you will face.
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