The field of ophthalmology has blessed us with amazing careers and incredible achievements. Every day, everywhere, we are surrounded by science. New developments, novel medications, targeted therapies, intriguing techniques, cytogenetic biomarkers, and a myriad of information that infuses and often escapes our overworked minds. We strive for the ultimate patient care during our hours in endless clinics and surgery.
And then we head home - to our family. From staggering science to utter simplicity, peace, and youthful questions from our children regarding geometry, British history, geographical findings at the Cape of Good Hope, and the proper use of predicate adjectives. How do we balance career with home? This topic is important for both women and men.
There are numerous articles, memoirs, brochures, pamphlets, online videos, and self-help books on the market regarding this topic. These publications typically provide a somewhat similar opinion with a common thread of self-care, daily organization, family time, and communication with the spouse.
My balance of career and home officially began in 1984 when I arrived at Wills Eye Hospital, 35 years ago. I gradually learned several important lessons on balancing home and career over time. My intention was to gain excellent skills for the practice of ophthalmology and my first lesson came unnoticed when I met my future husband, Jerry A. Shields, fell in love, and we were married. Lesson #1: Follow your heart. Things happen for a reason.
Then my world unfolded. Soon I was a doctor in the field Ophthalmology and subspecialty trained in Ocular Oncology and Pathology with the intent to provide care to a multitude of patients as well as explore major scientific research topics but also balanced with our growing family of 7 children. None of this was planned. This just evolved. Lesson #2: You are in charge of your own life, so steer it to suit yourself.
During life, we make choices that generally are intended to provide happiness. “Happy” is defined as “contentment, satisfaction, and sense of confidence.” The word “happy” is derived from middle English from the root noun “hap,” which means “lucky.” Sonja Lyubomirsky, in her book, The How of Happiness, wrote that happiness was 50% genetically determined according to twin studies, 10% affected by life circumstances, and 40% dependent on self-control. Humans seem happiest when they have pleasure, interpersonal engagement, social relationships, life meaning, and accomplishments. Hence, on the basis of this, our happiness is 50% controlled by ourselves and how we interpret our environment. Lesson #3: You are in partly in control of your happiness
As a doctor, I have tried to achieve the “5As” of doctor success, including availability, affability, ability, and my own two personal business-related traits of affordability and accountability. These traits allow for a friendly and accomplished physician, who, at the same time, is responsible to the business. We have directed our office to open early so that all patients are seen in time for us to finish our mail, email, and other communications at a reasonable time so that all gets done in a single day. Then, we head to the home front in time for dinner. Our patient hours begin at 6:00 am and typically end at 2:00 pm, often seeing over 50 patients on a “new patient day” and nearly 100 patients on a “follow up patient day.” Some patients even come in before they go to their own employment. Book author, Laura Vanderkam, published observations in her publication, What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast. This is an interesting guide to make your mornings more meaningful. She indicates that morning duties can open up afternoon drains and allow us to take control of our lives. Lesson #4: Organize your day to benefit both your office and home
As a doctor, there are many duties including taking care of patients, providing job satisfaction for your staff, and servicing your business corporation. Thomas Egnew published on The Art of Medicine: Seven Skills that Promote Mastery and indicated that there are 7 important skills that make a doctor “a doctor”. These include (1) Think before you enter the patient room; (2) Develop rapport with the patient; (3) Assess the patient response to illness; (4) Communicate with the patient; (5) Power of touch; (6) Laugh a little; and (7) Show empathy and sincerity. These points build confidence, show interest, establishes comfort, and can actually help the patient with healing. Lesson #5: We are here to serve and heal our patients
As a researcher, one must be organized and enthusiastic about their career. Honesty in research is of prime importance. No one will trust a study without complications. Personally, I participate daily in computer-coding of patient's diagnosis, selection of best image for case presentations, presentation of research at national/international meetings, and working and mentoring in academic endeavors resulting in writing peer-reviewed reports. This constitutes a highly fulfilling career, but I must be organized and maintain interest in my study. Working closely with colleagues, fellows, residents, and students, we can reach reasonable goals. Lesson #6: In research, one must be organized and supremely honest
As a mother, the duties, worries, achievements, frustrations, and happiness multiply as your children grow. Mom and Dad should be a team united. We nourish our children to become their own selves and not a clone of us. Childcare when young, education when older, and freedom to grow when out of the house are important goals to reach. Children love traditions, and in our home, there are several including dinner by candlelight every night with the entire family present – this builds camaraderie. Additional family time with bike riding, skiing, tennis, frisbee, and still life painting molds the family into a supporting unit. Even watching a movie together is time well spent.
I have found some humor to parenting and I have some observations that I often relay to my junior colleagues to lessen their worry. These include (1) nothing is perfect; (2) socks typically do not match; (3) the house will never be as clean as you want it; (4) if Mom cannot hem your dress, then staple it; (5) kids learn by example; and (6) be thankful for all you have. One of my favorite reads is Erma Bombeck, a true mother and humorous writer from the 1960s. She made the cover of TIME magazine many years ago for the topic of Working the House for Laughs . Her funny tips for parenting including don't lose your sense of humor, follow your dreams, worry is fruitless, guilt comes with the territory, and eat dessert – that is, just sit down and enjoy it. Her happy-go-lucky attitude is a great lesson in life. She has always believed that laughter was her greatest revenge. Later, when she was dying from cancer, she stated, “If I had my life to live over, there would have been more 'I love you', 'I'm sorry', and 'I'm listening.'” Lesson #7: Family first.
So as a doctor, researcher, and mother, I have taken the challenge of patient care, academic excellence and honesty, and the fun-filled time of children with cheerios and goldfish crackers all over my car. How lucky we are to be able to experience life at its fullest.
About the author
Dr. Carol Shields completed her ophthalmology training at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia in 1987 and subsequently did fellowship training in ocular oncology, oculoplastic surgery, and ophthalmic pathology. She is currently Director of the Oncology Service, Wills Eye Hospital, and Professor of Ophthalmology at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.
She has authored or coauthored 11 textbooks, 330 chapters in edited textbooks, nearly 1800 articles in major peer-reviewed journals, and given over 850 lectureships. The 5 most prestigious awards that have honored her include:
- The Donders Award (2003) - given by the Netherlands Ophthalmological Society every 5 years to an ophthalmologist worldwide who has contributed to the field of ophthalmology. She was the first woman to receive this award.
- The American Academy of Ophthalmology Life Achievement Honor Award (2011) for contributions to the field of ophthalmology.
- Induction into the Academic All-American Hall of Fame (2011) for lifetime success in athletics and career.
- President of the International Society of Ocular Oncology (2013-2015) – This is the largest international society of doctors and basic scientists interested in ocular tumors.
- Ophthalmology Power List 2014, 2016, and 2018 – Nominated by peers as one of the top 100 leaders in the field of ophthalmology.
Dr. Carol Shields is a member of numerous ocular oncology, pathology, and retina societies. She serves on the editorial or advisory board of 31 journals, including JAMA Ophthalmology and RETINA. She practices Ocular Oncology on a full-time basis with her husband, Dr. Jerry Shields and associates on the Oncology Service at Wills Eye Hospital. Each year the Oncology Service manages approximately 500 patients with uveal melanoma, 120 patients with retinoblastoma, and hundreds of other intraocular, orbital, and conjunctival tumors from the United States and abroad. She and her husband Jerry are the proud parents of 7 children, ranging in age from 19 to 31 years.
1. Lyubomirsky S The How of Happiness. A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want. 2008 New York The Penguin Press
2. Vanderkam L What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast. 2012 New York Penguin Publishing Group
3. Egnew TR. The art of medicine: Seven skills that promote mastery Fam Pract Manag. 2014;21:25–30
4. TIME magazine. How Erma copes. Working the house for laughs. Cover issue, TIME magazine 1984 (July 2).