Anticipation electrified the air as I stood on the threshold of a life-changing moment: the birth of my son. The distinct sterile scent of the hospital mixed with my nervous excitement to create a potent blend.
And yet, amidst the palpable joy, a nagging thought took hold — a looming deadline. In two hours, I had to complete an assessment for medical school. This was not the first time I’d experienced such conflict and whiplash: For me, balancing familial devotion with the rigors of academia and the allure of extracurricular pursuits has been an intricate puzzle, in which each move comes laden with choices and consequences.
Though the day I had to do schoolwork while my son was being born was one of the worst in my struggle with competing responsibilities, similar conflicts have continued to crop up. One day recently, I received a phone call from my daughter right after I left home in a rush for class. Her voice trembled with palpable sadness as she pleaded for her father's hug and kiss. Another day, my son took his first steps — but I learned about the milestone only via video, as I was away from home in a mandatory class.
Since I’ve entered medical school, it often feels like the warm moments shared with my family have been reduced to fleeting snapshots. I’ve struggled mightily with decisions about where to put my time, when to study and when to relax at home, and how to be a good husband, father, and future doctor.
This constant tug-of-war between my roles has at times felt unconquerable. However, I have recently come to understand that there is no balance — there is only compartmentalization.
For me, the essence of equilibrium lies not in the allocation of minutes, but in the totality of presence. If I were to offer a single piece of advice, it would be to immerse oneself fully in the current role: at home, be fully present with family; at work, immerse oneself in one’s patients; while studying, focus exclusively on the task at hand. It's a demanding approach, requiring precision and self-discipline, yet it helps alleviate the perpetual conflict that accompanies multiple roles.
In practice, compartmentalization looks like this: At school, I dive into my studies with unwavering determination. I immerse myself completely in each lecture, textbook, and patient case. The day-to-day errands and text message reminders from my spouse take a backseat as I channel my energy into learning and retaining medical knowledge. During an allotted time for dedicated study sessions, I maximize every minute. Even during breaks, I do not allow guilt to creep in for not being at home, because of the understanding that an intense focus is essential for my education and future as a medical professional.
And at home, the innocent laughter of my children offers respite from the burdens of medical school. On the living room floor, I put aside my academic pursuits and immerse myself in the boundlessness of childhood play. My children’s unbridled joy, a stark contrast to the weight of my responsibilities, becomes my sanctuary. Here, the clash of stress and aspirations takes a momentary pause, as I place myself in the role of a father, unprovoked by beckoning studies. It is in these moments that I am reminded of the profound importance of family, their unwavering support serving as both a foundation and a lifeline.
In the grand tapestry of life, I am not solely a medical student striving for excellence. I am also a steadfast husband and father, who loves his family. The quest for equilibrium is a relentless journey, fraught with challenges and uncertainty. I have sought to embrace it willingly, using compartmentalization as my guide.
As I now stand in hospital rooms with that same sterile aroma as when my son was born, with poignant career decisions lurking on the horizon, I am reminded that the quest is arduous, the road often treacherous, but it's a journey I undertake with the hope of shaping a brighter future for my family and myself.
How do you find balance in medicine? Share your strategies in the comments!
Davin Evanson is a third-year medical student at Drexel University College of Medicine. His current career plan is in radiology. He is a husband, and a father to two energetic kids.
Illustration by April Brust