As a physician, author, TV-show host, speaker, leader, and mother of four, Dr. Farzanna Haffizulla is a leading light of work/life balance.
Her journey to medicine began at a young age, inspired by her mother’s experiences as a nurse in Trinidad. At the age of 16, just a few years after her family moved to the states, she began college as a premed student at the University of Central Florida. There, she verified her passions for medicine, leadership, and communication, continuing on to medical school thereafter.
“And, that’s when the little twists and turns happened, and things changed direction for me,” Haffizulla states.
By the end of her first year of medical school, she was married to her husband, and by the end of her second year, she was pregnant with her first child. As a medical student, Haffizulla notes that she “knocked down many preconceived notions around pregnancy,” as she learned to become vocal about empowerment and change. Despite the additional responsibilities she incurred, she managed to complete her medical school and residency training on time.
Since then, she has opened her own concierge internal medicine practice, where she engages in telecommunication and in-home consultations. She is also the mother of four children, ranging from the ages of seven to 18.
Through the years, Haffizulla has become a leader of women in medicine, recently serving as the president of the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA). Having published two books and a website, busymommd.com, on her experiences in medicine, she continues to write and speak nationally and has been formally referred to as a “work/life balance expert.”
AS: How can women in medicine achieve a sustainable work/life balance?
FH: It’s important to understand that work/life balance is balance in a particular moment of time. It’s based on all of the priorities you have in that particular moment. That is going to be fluid and dynamic — it’s never going to stay the same. When I was a medical student and first-time mom, what was important to me then is not the same as what’s important to me now.
The other thing I do is take a step back from my life and see everything as a venn diagram, so I can identify areas of overlap. While I am involved in so many different organizations, the main threads or themes — the core of what I’m doing — is accomplished by just a few moves.
Then, of course, my children are a priority. I want to make sure they never get shortchanged in the process. So, as you’re building your priorities list, you want to make sure that you factor in the most important elements of your life — your “non-negotiables.”
Lastly, make sure you communicate with your partner, significant other, or support group. You’re not alone in this process. You want to make sure your level of communication is always crisp, clear, and transparent, and everyone is on the same page.
I also do want to say that life is messy and that’s the beauty of it. You’re not seeking perfection whatsoever. As a mom, lose the guilt when delegating tasks and embrace your decisions!
AS: What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to other women in medicine?
FH: I would tell them to throw their hats in the ring, become leaders, and be fearless. Know that not even the sky’s the limit. You are the future of science and medicine. As women, we’re resilient, but we’re also adaptive, we have high emotional intelligence, and we’re able to intuitively decide the best approaches in life.
So, I’m going to tell them to make sure that they don’t just stay as practicing clinicians, but to get out of their comfort zone and pursue hybrid pathways in policy, law, and government alongside their clinical goal. That’s truly going to help us tease out some of the deficits in healthcare access and delivery. This will not only elevate us to a more intuitive model but we’ll also achieve the true inter-professional synergy that is vital to positive patient outcomes.
AS: What resources would you recommend to help women in this process?
FH: Of course, I would recommend AMWA. AMWA helped me in my medical school days and continues to help strengthen and support all my current work and life goals. Aside from that, I think the most important thing is to have female mentors who you can connect with at an early age — people who you admire and respect. The Physician Mom’s group on Facebook is another great resource. It has a good depth and breadth of the issues that are facing women in medicine today. It really empowers [women] to help, heal, and band together. Human beings have to have camaraderie, build on synergy, be respectful of one another, and have a positive attitude in order to create more innovative thoughts and be productive.
AS: What do you see as the future role of women in medicine?
FH: I see us breaking the glass ceiling — essentially having more gender equity, with regards to salary, leadership positions, and everything else. If we continue to band together, perpetuate inner strength, and build upon our support system, not only will we have more women to take on senior leadership roles, but we will not have that discrepancy between men and women. More transparency will also happen. And we’ll have a more resilient healthcare system, if women are more involved with the national policy and law level.
Women are integral to innovation. Based on some of the problems and deficits that we have, solutions will be teased out that will redefine the landscape of clinical care. And, women in medicine will be an important pillar in that change.
AS: How do you unwind after a challenging day?
FH: I’m from the Caribbean. So, the Trinidadian in me loves dancing. A lot of dancing happens in my house. We have little dance-a-thons all the time. Listening to music empowers and energizes you — it gives you that extra boost of positive energy.
I also love family time, whether it’s building legos with my sons, watching movies together, cooking together, going to the beach — just enjoying those little moments. They press your reset button, which is so vital if you’re working hard. ‘Play hard, work hard.’ That’s the kind of mentality we have in the Caribbean. Teasing out those aspects of life that make you smile, and not taking everything so seriously. Just, enjoying life.