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Tips for Balancing Work and Family from a Doctor Mom

The life work balance for is tough enough for any parent however, when you are a physician it may seem even more difficult. You have patients to care for that need your expertise, but your children need your time and guidance. How can a parent that is also a doctor find that delicate balance between their patients needs and their family?

Here to speak with us about the incredible challenges a parent / physician faces raising a family and having a demanding career, is Dr. Heather Crawford, DO. She is an Obstetrician / Gynecologist at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center.
Tips for Balancing Work and Family from a Doctor Mom
Featured Speaker:
Heather Crawford, DO
Dr. Heather M Crawford, DO, is an Obstetrics/Gynecology specialist in Camden, New Jersey. She attended and graduated from Umdnj New Jersey School Of Osteo Medicine in 2005, having over 12 years of diverse experience, especially in Obstetrics/Gynecology. She is affiliated with Our Lady Of Lourdes Medical Center.

Melanie Cole (Host): The life/work balance is tough enough for any parent; however, when you’re a physician, it may seem even more difficult. You have patients to care for that need your expertise, but your children need your time and guidance. How can a parent that’s also a doctor find that balance between their patient’s needs and their family’s needs? Here to speak with us about the incredible challenges a parent physician faces, raising a family, and having a demanding career is Dr. Heather Crawford. She’s an obstetrician/gynecologist at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center. Welcome to the show, Dr. Crawford. So, let’s jump right in with this question. It’s such an interesting topic. For you personally, how tough is it, balancing work as a doctor and a family that needs you?

Dr. Heather Crawford, DO (Guest): Sure. Sure. Thank you for having me, and I get asked this question all time. So, it’s something that I deal with often, and ironically, I didn’t have even a lot of time to prepare for this interview because I am so busy. That’s just part of it. Balancing being a professional and a mom is challenging. I have three children under seven, and when I thought about this, the first thing I thought is women really – not to sound cliché – but they really are amazing. Just genetically, we are born and can nature with – we produce hormones that, you know, make us nest. We biologically can produce milk. Emotionally, there, we’re the backbone for our kids and our families. So, we do a lot just biologically that makes us feel if we do work that we have this work guilt, and basically, if you work, for any reason—out of necessity, to keep your skills up, just for an outlet—you're going to have some sort of work guilt. And the take home, I think, from all of that is that nothing can be 100%, 100% of the time. It’s a give and take, a back and flow, and to balance everything at once. So, just being a mom and being a human, I make mistakes all the time, and I thought of some ways that I sort of make it work for us that I know a lot of professionals do the same sorts of things. So, you want me to just go down the list of a couple of things?

Melanie: Let’s do it. Let’s hear it because the listeners want to hear your tips and your good advice about how they can really balance this.

Dr. Crawford: Okay. So, being type A, I'm a physician. A lot of professionals are type A. You need to have organization at home and at work, and what I do is I go old-school, and I have a huge calendar, and it’s really the only way that I can do it. Each child has their own color, and I coordinate all the dates and everything that comes through and all the massive amount of paperwork that comes home every day. I go through it immediately and just put it up on the calendar. So, there’s this is ongoing, color-coordinated calendar. That really is our lifeline for the family. Everybody comes in and looks at the calendar. It’s something that we actually need. I don’t think I would be able to function without it, honestly. So, that’s something that I think everybody should just do. It’s hard when you have your phones, and you can do it that way, but just seeing it and seeing the colors, it kind of makes everything a little easier. Also, when all the papers come in, what I do is I categorize it in like an urgent folder, a folder of like this can wait a week, and then something else that this could wait like a month. So, I kind of can categorize it that way. So, I get, you know, everything done, and I have everything ready to go in any down time I have. That’s just something I do for organization that can be helpful. The second thing, this is kind of funny, it’s a hard one, but you have to be okay with being perfectly imperfect. Again, being type A, I want everything to be a certain way. I want everybody to kind of be, you know, everything set up the way I can envision it in my mind, and I call it “The Cupcake Story”, and this is a real, a true story. My seven year old now was having his first birthday at preschool. So, it was my first school party, and I had these gourmet cupcakes that were color coordinated with special sprinkles, and we were all ready and excited, and I go in. We bring him the cupcakes, and I get a call about an hour later that like we can't serve these because there's no sticker on there that says there’s not, you know, it’s not in a peanut-free environment. It wasn’t made in a peanut-free environment, and I thought, oh my gosh, preschool is only two hours long. I have to get cupcakes to my child. So, I'm hysterical, and my sister – we’re calling all bakeries within 20 minutes trying to find this and ended up finding him these $5.99 cupcakes at a grocery store, ran them in, just got it there in time, but it had the sticker that said “peanut free”. So, what I realized, the take home there is that, you know, it didn’t have to be perfect. It didn’t have to have the perfect colors and have the perfect everything. All he knew is that he had a cupcake that day. So, that was something that I kind of had to think about in the future. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to work, and it just has to be easy for you. The kids aren’t going to know or really remember the color of the cupcake. Another thing. At school, now they're getting a little bit older, I make a lot of connections with moms, and the teachers, and I drop the façade of everything being perfect, and I say, look, this is what’s going on, and we all kind of have similar experiences. The more you talk to moms, you see that they are kind of going through the same thing, and there’s that connection I think is important. I’m also very honest and upfront with everybody at the schools and the things I volunteer for of, you know, exactly what I can and cannot do. I don’t try to overextend myself, but I'm involved. So, the kids know that I’m there, but they are okay with that because, if I can't make something one time they know that I’ll be able to make another event. So, I kind of make myself available, knowing that it’s okay if I'm not at everything.

Melanie: I think that’s a great tip that you're saying. You can't be perfect all the time. Maybe the house is not spotless all the time—

Dr. Crawford: Right.

Melanie: —or your cupcakes were not the gourmet type, but as you say, kids don’t care—

Dr. Crawford: Yeah.

Melanie: —and as a mom, and I'm in a similar situation where I have a demanding career and a mother, but you do realize that that calendar is some important—

Dr. Crawford: Right.

Melanie: —and planning, even planning lunches the night before, having everything ready because you're racing around—

Dr. Crawford: Right.

Melanie: —so how do you decide, and I think this is such an important question. What if a child needs extra care and so do your patients? Or you have to go deliver a baby, and there’s something that you had promised to do. How do you decide which to triage?

Dr. Crawford: You know, I really think that this happens to me. I'm in a position right now where I do shift work in a hospital. So, I have flexibility at work, but there have been times when I have not, and you kind of have to accept the fact that you can't be everywhere, and in that predicament, I typically go to where I'm needed the most, even though it’s hard to break away from your, you know, commitment with a child. If I need to be with a patient, I feel like in that scenario, I would have to go and be at the patient, but I would make sure that when I got back, I would make a big deal. I would see a video. I would definitely be involved in whatever I did miss, and I would make sure I didn’t miss it the next time. So, my kids are kind of used to that. If there were to be an emergency, they’re okay because I think they know that I'm going to somehow compensate with that later, and I'm going to make sure that they have seen me, talked to me about it. We get to do it again, all that. That’s how I do it.

Melanie: And then that’s so—

Dr. Crawford: You have to make a decision.

Melanie: You do—

Dr. Crawford: Yes.

Melanie: —and how important do you think is partner support? Because if you do have to run off and deliver a baby, but your kids had something they had to get to or a play that they were in or something like that, the partner can sometimes—while partners are not always a replacement for moms and as you say, we are the caregivers of society—

Dr. Crawford: Right.

Melanie: —but sometimes, that partner does have to be the person to jump in and take over for us.

Dr. Crawford: Oh, yeah. You know, you have to have—your partner kind of has to be your friend, and you have to be able to talk, communicate, and laugh about this because my husband’s a physician as well. So, we really—

Melanie: Wow.

Dr. Crawford: —kind of sit down, plan out, and that’s why that calendar is so important. We kind of talk about, okay, plan B. There’s always like a plan B. Well, if this doesn’t happen, how do we do this? Then, usually, one of us can work it out. Again, I'm in a position right now where I have flexibility with my job more than he does. So, we’re okay, but we always kind of make it sure that one of us has that flexibility, but you need have to have a partnership with your spouse. It’s like an actual, true partnership because you have to work together with this, and the kids seem to be okay with it. They see you guys working together; they know you're trying, and I think that’s half of it. They know that everybody wants to be there.

Melanie: So, how does being on call affect all this because you’ve got your calendar, and you’ve got your partner, and you’ve got all of these things preset, but being on call is something that can’t be known? You never know, and women that are pregnant certainly have, I mean, I remember calling the doctor lots of times in the middle of the night with Braxton Hicks or whatever it is, you know, your concern. So, does being on call and can you do a part-time academic job or be a physician part-time? Do you see that this is kind of a new phenomenon and more women might be choosing this?

Dr. Crawford: Absolutely. I actually am considered part-time right now. I've done both. I’ve always been pregnant and going to deliver right before – working up until the day I delivered. I've always been in the hospital in those scenarios. I'm so used to being in the hospital. It’s almost like a second home, and I believe we probably all feel that way, but really you just sort of get so used to it. It becomes part of your daily routine. I don’t know what it would be like to not have a work environment to deal with. So, like let’s say, if I had to – it’s been a little bit, but I have definitely been home and had to be on call, and I would sleep, let’s say, on another room and just kind of have the phone next to me, and that’s how I would do it, and it would be okay. But, again, you have to have that backup plan. So, if I would have to go somewhere, my husband’s there. You know, you just kind of have to plan it out. Everything needs planning. You can't just do something last second.

Melanie: That’s so important, and it’s such good advice. So wrap it up for us, Dr. Crawford because what an interesting topic, and I think the listeners are going to be fascinated to hear how you balance all of these things. So, give us some of your best tips, and this is for both parents, and for women that are working in really any field as far as balancing–

Dr. Crawford: Yes.

Melanie: —that delicate challenge of life and work because we want to work. Some of us want to work. It’s very rewarding—

Dr. Crawford: Right.

Melanie: —but again our children need us and that is rewarding as well—

Dr. Crawford: Right.

Melanie: —give us your best advice.

Dr. Crawford: Well, you have to be in the moment. When I'm at work, I'm 100% at work. When I'm at home, I’m 100% with the kids. If there's an emergency, I know I have to kind of be a little bit flexible with that at home, but if I'm home, I don’t check emails. I don’t like, you know, do things for work when I'm with them. When I'm with them, I'm with them. Also, I think work makes me a better mom, and being a mom makes me a better doctor. So, I think they can—it’s like you're not going to work, you know, to your kids. You're not doing that to your kids; you're kind of doing it for them. So, I think it can be good if you're working because you get to come back. You get to have that perspective on both ways and just try to have fun. You know, we work hard. We play hard. Again, it’s an ongoing process. Talk to me in a year, and I’ll probably have more tips, but it is—it’s an ongoing thing that we’re all trying to work out. And, I guess just know that you're not alone, and probably every mom has some aspect of some of these things going on in their life, and just talk to one another.

Melanie: That’s great advice—

Dr. Crawford: It’s important.

Melanie: —and such an interesting topic. Thank you so much, Dr. Crawford, for being with us today. You’re listening to Lourdes Health Talk, and for more information, please visit That's This is Melanie Cole. Thanks so much for listening.