Initially, I was a bit nervous about the decision to interview my mother, Dr. Elizabeth (Liza) Arendt, for the first episode of the Planning on Call podcast. Now that I have had a chance to reflect on the conversation, I am very happy we decided to start here.
As a highly accomplished orthopedic surgeon, dedicated mother, and trailblazer for women (and men) in the field of sports medicine, it has been easy to view my mother as larger than life. Learning that her path was not always clear, especially early in her career and marriage, is helpful as my wife and I work on growing our own family and careers. My wife in a surgical career of her own, and me helping surgeons plan their financial lives.
It was surprising to me that even being the detail-oriented, type-A person my mother is, she did not try to plan every detail of her life. Whether it was within her family or her career, she set her path along larger, primary goals and used those to guide her decisions. For her, those goals were – to be successful in her career (Orthopedic Surgery), to maintain her marriage, and to have children that knew their mother. At first, this sounded pretty simple to me, but upon further reflection, it is incredibly hard to do – especially when choosing a field as consuming as orthopedic surgery. They are goals that I know my wife and I also hope to achieve.
I would encourage you to listen to full interview of this episode of ‘Planning on Call,’ the podcast, here:
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So what were some of her tricks? First, choose a job you love. Successful, driven spouses who are both working to advance their careers, while also raising children, means there will absolutely be hard times – both at home and the office. No matter the location of your business, the pay of your career, or the prestige of your position, my mother believes that if you are not in a position you love, you will end up unhappy. For her, this meant finding a position that focused on becoming an expert in a certain area of surgery vs. being a generalist. This plan gave her the ability to teach, and that allowed her to work with partners that respected her as a woman that wanted both a career and to have children. I believe that this took some amount of foresight on her part, as well as some amount of luck. Thinking about what you want before taking a position in any field is important (more so, than just location or money), as well as knowing that if a fit isn’t right, try… try again to find something you love.
It takes a village – cliché but true. Throughout our conversation, the importance of having partners that supported her seemed to be a recurring theme, especially if you are somebody looking to grow your family. You will need to have some willing help from others, to begin and sustain your practice. She also noted, though, that any good support system requires give and take – you need to be ready to help your partners in return, and you need to be vocal in your planning and understand that your actions can cause stress on other members of the practice and those in your personal life.
Another key factor within the workplace that stood out to me was transparency. As one of the first women in her field, she felt very thankful that she worked for an organization that was particularly transparent with their pay structure and benefits –such as vacation, disability, and healthcare (especially when considering growing a family).
Outside of the workplace, she offered some great advice on growing a family around a demanding career. One thing she brought up, that I also remember from my childhood, was centering each night around the dinner table. Making it home (even if sometimes late) in time to sit around a dinner table together, without televisions or phones. This allowed us to connect as a group and was a centering consistency for our family. She also specifically took one night a week to stay in the office as late as need be to get the work she wanted to be done for the week (or to play catch-up) so that the other nights of the week she could be home for our meal together.
Living near extended family was also important, at least when it came to free time. Family provides an immediate support network, and, as she reiterated a theory from a colleague, either you live near your family and spend time vacationing to fun places, or you live away from your family and spend your vacations visiting them. Ultimately, it was interesting to hear her validate, that above location or being near extended family, loving your work and practice was most important, as this has such a monumental impact on the day-to-day interactions with your immediate family.
Towards the end of our conversation, my mom mentioned something that I thought was quite impactful. At the end of the day, she feels like she figured out work, and she figured out home, but she wasn’t sure she figured out herself. So, not surprisingly, when I asked what her most important piece of advice to young physicians was, she replied with the advice to not get swallowed up – to not lose yourself to other people’s perception of what they think you should be – and to keep your individuality through everything you do. This bit of vulnerability was odd, my mom is not someone known for showing much emotion (to my understanding, the residents commonly referred to her as ‘The Dragon’).
It was particularly impactful to me that as the person who spent so much of her life caring for her patients, students and children, her last piece of advice was to take time for yourself. Take time to get some exercise, to mellow out, and avoid being devoured by the job and its responsibilities. While it was not the parting piece of advice I thought I’d get from my uber driven, successful mother – it was well understood. Time to get out of here and go for a walk.
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