Women radiologists strive for work-life balance

2013 05 23 15 15 32 799 Gender Symbols 200

Can female radiologists really have it all? Or does something have to give? The answer seems to hinge on the country and hospital in which they work, as well as an individual's personality and circumstances, according to conversations with members of AuntMinnieEurope.com's Editorial Advisory Board.

When asked how she balances her work and personal life, Dr. Anagha Parkar, a radiologist at Haraldsplass Diakonale Sykehus in Bergen, Norway, said, "Easy -- I live in Norway!"

Dr. Anagha Parkar from Haraldsplass Diakonale Sykehus in Bergen, Norway.Dr. Anagha Parkar from Haraldsplass Diakonale Sykehus in Bergen, Norway.

In Norway, working part time is encouraged, and the law regulates an appropriate number of paid sick days for employees and also days to look after sick children younger than the age of 12. This time off is regulated according to the number of kids and whether the employee is a single parent or not, etc., but working 40 hours a week is still the norm.

"Actually the employers do not want radiologists to work more than 40 hours, and people who want to work more have to more or less beg for more hours," Dr. Parkar said. "I think it may be different if you are in a specialty with few doctors like neurosurgery, but even there the tendency is to work less and have more people to share the work with rather than increase the hours of those already there."

Also, more doctors who work fewer hours mean the workplace is more stable than one where fewer doctors do a lot, Parkar explained. "If one falls ill or changes job, than everything 'falls apart,' " she said. "So that is why it is acceptable, even encouraged, to work less."

However, about 10% of radiologists work in private practice who keep longer hours, but they also earn more. "Norwegians encourage a life outside work, at least in the hospital setting," she said.

Life down under

Over in Australia, Dr. Catherine Mandel, a consultant radiologist in Melbourne, tries to balance her life by creating distinctions. After receiving nonurgent calls at 2 a.m. while at a conference in Europe, she decided to have two mobile phones, one for work and professional matters and one for family. She also has three email accounts: work, professional (not via work), and personal.

Dr. Catherine Mandel from Melbourne, Australia.Dr. Catherine Mandel from Melbourne, Australia.

She tries to set aside defined times to do other things, such as not taking work away with her on weekend breaks.

"If I cannot go away without taking work, I do not go," Mandel said. "When I do go away, it is good to go somewhere out of range of mobile phones and the Internet."

Mobile technology, although at times very helpful, is making the work-life balance much harder, in her opinion.

"In the past, we had pagers for contact both at work and when on call," Mandel said. "People would allow us 10 to 15 minutes to get to a phone and answer the pager. Now with mobile phones, if we do not answer immediately it is said that we are not available. It is not always possible to answer immediately, nor is it always necessary."

When she was a junior doctor, there was a switchboard and the operators would know if she was on leave or in the operating theater and put the call through to the person covering. The switchboard staff would also hold calls if there were too many close together, so that she would have time to catch up.

Keeping fit

Physical activity can help with coping with work stress.

Dr. Claudia Schueller-Weidekamm from the Medical University of Vienna.Dr. Claudia Schueller-Weidekamm from the Medical University of Vienna.

"I do a lot of sports activities and spend a lot of time with my kids, which enriches me with positive energy," said Dr. Claudia Schueller-Weidekamm from the Medical University of Vienna. "In recent years, the situation to maintain a good balance is getting worse. Working hours in the hospital and the workload have increased due to financial restrictions for the hospital."

Someone else who values exercise is a U.K. radiologist who wishes to remain anonymous. As a birthday present to herself, she booked a weekly session with a personal trainer.

"This kills me every Monday, but it's OK as the endorphin high is so very worth it!" she said. "All of my gym work is timetabled in my diary, and I don't give myself any excuses to miss it. I also do another three hours of classes in the gym a week, and enjoy walks and cycling with my family. Sounds very normal, but only when you realize that, despite being a major exercise junkie, I left my last gym when my daughter was a baby, as I just couldn't get there. I feel very much better about myself since I'm back at the gym."

Published research

Very few studies are available in the literature, but in the now-defunct journal Gender Medicine, Schueller-Weidekamm and Dr. Alexandra Kautzky-Willer published a small study about the challenges of the work-life balance for women physicians and mothers working in leadership positions (Gend Med, August 2012, Vol. 9:4, pp. 244-250). In addition to the existing "glass ceiling," they found that the predominant responsibility for child care is still borne by the woman. The good news, however, is that mentoring programs, coaching, networking, and support of the partner or other people exist to strengthen female "soft" skills and achieve a work-life balance.

The researchers conducted interviews with eight women in leadership positions in the healthcare system in Vienna. All interviewees had at least one child. The authors found that six women were content or extremely content with their work-life balance, whereas one woman had the feeling time was too short for work and family life. Another woman said her strong emphasis on work would always result in an imbalance. Half of the sample said the time devoted to family life was limited.

"There is much more stress for women due to the dual burden of family and work; actually, this is a triple burden of family, work, and home life," they wrote.

A way to combat the burden is to delegate time-consuming and unimportant tasks, and the secret to establishing a career is the support of a partner, friends, or family members, they added.

Support network

Dr. Neelam Dugar from Doncaster Royal Infirmary in the U.K.Dr. Neelam Dugar from Doncaster Royal Infirmary in the U.K.

A good, supportive partner is how Dr. Neelam Dugar, a consultant radiologist at Doncaster Royal Infirmary in the U.K. and the former chair of the Royal College of Radiologists' Imaging Informatics Group, keeps her life balanced.

"My husband has always supported me and contributes equally to household chores and kids," she said. "We are equal partners in life. Without that, it would be difficult. It is difficult when kids are young and need more things done for them. ... Sometimes, I wonder how we managed when the kids were infants and both of us worked full time. His parents supported us with the kids, and we are grateful to them."

"With time it gets easier too, as I have become more experienced at work and wiser as well," Dugar added.

The U.K. radiologist who wished to remain anonymous said that going to work is often much easier than trying to do everything else that must be slotted in.

"My children are still relatively young, so we are still on duty for school drop-offs, collections, and chauffeur duties to all their activities outside of school for the pair of them," she said.

She keeps sane by having a job plan that allows her time to do the school run twice a week and works extended days. She also has one session a week for paperwork at home and an education management session that is flexible.

Dr. Christiane Nyhsen from Sunderland Royal Hospital in the U.K.Dr. Christiane Nyhsen from Sunderland Royal Hospital in the U.K.

"It often is just paperwork, so I can escape to anywhere there is Wi-Fi with my laptop, usually the public library closest to my daughter's school to get the work done," she said. "All this is very well, but of course there's a house to run. I have help two mornings a week from a cleaner and the ironing is sent out every week, but organization, shopping, and cooking are all mine!"

Working part time helps Dr. Christiane Nyhsen, a consultant radiologist at Sunderland Royal Hospital in the U.K., balance work and home life.

"Being part-time I do more at home, so juggle many different things," she said.

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