Surviving work and parenthood in veterinary medicine

FirstlineFirstline January/February 2019
Volume 15
Issue 1

Sure, there are tough days to balance family and my career, but heres how I make it workand tips for you.

Illustration by Roxy Townsend.

Balancing a career and kids is always going to be a challenge, but in veterinary medicine, with unpredictable hours, client demands and patient emergencies, it's 10 times as hard. When I was a technician on the floor, it helped me to find the positives in my unique schedule of working on weekends and having longer shifts. While there were days that were tough and I barely saw my son in the morning and he was already asleep by the time I got home, I had extra mommy-son time during the week because I had a couple days off during the week. He also was in daycare less and with his family more with this schedule, so I saw that as another plus. A lot of the ability to stay positive and push through any “mommy guilt” is to adjust your perspective and find gratitude in your situation.

Technicians, try these tips

Even if your schedule doesn't have the flexibility of a manager's you can still make time to balance work and family, Scislowicz says.

> Take advantage of support from family and friends-to help pick up the kids on unexpected late nights or early morning shifts. It helps to have a back-up system!

> Live within your means in regard to daycare and school. Budget ahead of time for schooling and after-school care. If you spend all of your funds on the most expensive school, you may not be able to accommodate after-school care into the budget, which can make things more challenging with your schedule.

> Ask your supervisor and team what their needs are and try to find ways to give and take. You may be surprised some employees would rather have the late shift so they can sleep in, allowing you to take the earlier shift more frequently and be able to pick your kids up from school. You can also suggest a four-day work week versus a five-day, and vice versa, depending on what makes childcare easier for you. It never hurts to ask as long as you are willing to give a little so all team members get some of what they want.

> When trying to accommodate the holidays, consider building traditions that are outside of the typical days used to celebrate (Thursday for Thanksgiving, or December 24 and 25 for Christmas eve and day). While you will still likely have get-togethers with the family on those days, if you are more likely to work during the holidays (especially if you are an ER technician), try to build in a day before or after the holidays to always be off and celebrate with your kids. It will be easier to request that day off, and-in the end-it's about the time with family, not the specific day of the week.

Today, my life is undoubtedly easier being in a management role, as I am not designated to a specific shift and I can attend school functions during the day and make up my work in the evenings or early mornings. However, no matter what your work hours, when you work 40 hours a week there are sacrifices that have to be made. I've had to explain to my son-at a table seated with all his school friends-why I had to go back to work when all of their moms were picking them up at the bus stop. I then had to peel him off of me, while he was in tears, to go back to work. I try to keep in mind in these moments that I am setting a positive example for my son. While being able to stay home and spend every extra moment with your child is fabulous, having your child see their mom work hard in the workplace to earn for their family and accomplish career goals is really important too. Also, the independence my son is able to achieve by going back to his friends and finishing his school day is equally important to him and his growth.

A big part of balancing work and parenthood is living in the moment. I found that I had less guilt and more appreciation for my time with my son (versus lamenting the time I was away from him) when I was able to switch roles back and forth and not have blurred lines between the two. When I am with my son, save an absolute emergency, I am dedicated to spending that time with him-not thinking about what I have to do tomorrow or stressing about what happened earlier at work that day. Alternatively, when I am at work, I bust through and am completely absorbed in my tasks there. That way, I'm highly efficient and don't feel like I need to make that time up in the evenings after a full work day, aside from when I cut away for a school activity (and that ends up just being a swap of family time during the day versus evening).

It has also been a huge help having a partner who wants, and is able to, take turns attending school functions. My work often involves travel, so sometimes by the time I hear of a field trip, I have a scheduled visit to one of our hospitals out of town. My husband will pick up the ones where I am out of town, and I fill in when I am able to aside from that. This way my son gets equal time with both of us, and I don't have to feel bad that I can't come to some of the field trips, lunches and performances. Additionally, when I travel for conferences, my son gets super excited to have “boy's time” with my husband. So while I may get homesick, I remind myself that my son has probably already forgotten I'm gone! I always take lots of fun photos, video chat each day and bring back something special when I go out of town for a conference, which also makes the whole experience less painful for all of us.

Finally, I think having fun family routines, no matter how crazy your schedule is, can be very important. We have Sunday afternoon movie dates every weekend as a family and go to the art museum together after work and school every Friday. This gives you and your family something exciting to look forward to and a chance to bond, even on the craziest, longest of work weeks.

Oriana Scislowicz, BS, LVT, aPHR, is a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and practice manager at CVCA Cardiac Care for Pets in Richmond, Virginia.

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