Secrets to success

Is it possible to be a leader in the field of medicine, while maintaining a healthy and successful personal life? Is there such a thing as work-life balance?

On November 19, UBC medical residents and young alumni came out in search of answers, as part of an open forum on physician success and wellness, co-hosted by Faculty of Medicine Alumni Affairs and the Resident Wellness Office (RWO).

Dr. Simon Pulfrey addresses residents and young alumni at the Medical Student and Alumni Centre.

Dr. Simon Pulfrey addresses residents and young alumni at the Medical Student and Alumni Centre.

“Success involves a feeling of purpose,” acknowledged Simon Pulfrey (MD ’00), one of four panelists who took to the stage at UBC’s Medical Student & Alumni Centre as part of the inaugural Successful MD event.

Over the course of the evening, Dr. Pulfrey — an alumnus of UBC’s medical school, and current clinical assistant professor with the Department of Emergency Medicine — joined other leaders in the medical community to talk openly about their careers, offer secrets to success and present their perspectives on leadership strategies.

“It boils down to what’s important to you. Some things you let go, and others you take, but the bottom line is that if there’s something that’s really important to you, or for your spouse or partner, you have to make it happen, and then you also have to let go of other things that are less important,” acknowledged Dr. Pulfrey.

“For me, I wanted my kids and family to live somewhere else for a good spell of time, while being involved in something meaningful,” added Dr. Pulfrey, referring to time spent abroad with his family helping to direct the new emergency medicine residency program at the National University of Rwanda.

Other Successful MD event panelists included Roanne Preston, Department Head of Anesthesiology, Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Beth Taylor, Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, as well as registered psychologist and UBC alumnus, Randy Mackoff (PhD ’92).

Many panelists opened up about the challenges they’ve faced balancing their personal and professional lives.

“I’m not a picture of balance,” confessed Dr. Taylor, seen holding a mic in one hand, and her youngest child in the other.

For Dr. Taylor, a gynecologist and mother of four, finding balance involves daily juggling of professional demands and family responsibilities. And she’ll admit that she can’t have it all.

“I struggled for a long time to do everything, and then I realized, I couldn’t do it all. That’s when I decided to look at what my core values were, and pursue those. For me, that was being a good mom, and being a good doctor,” said Dr. Taylor, who completed her residency at UBC in 2005.

Event moderator, Dr. Rhonda Low.

Event moderator, Dr. Rhonda Low.

Event moderator and family physician Rhonda Low (MD ’82), a graduate of UBC’s medical school and former CTV News health expert, pointed to the importance of talking about work-life balance early.

“We know that medicine is a demanding profession, and that’s why work-life balance is such an important discussion to have, and to have early,” says Dr. Low, who has long served as a clinical associate faculty member in UBC’s Department of Family Practice.

By the end of the evening, it was clear that no definitive guide on how to become a well-rounded, successful physician was set to emerge. But, as the organizers acknowledge, the event was never intended to provide residents and young alumni with all the answers.

“What we wanted to do was start a dialogue,” says Alumni Engagement Manager Kira Davis, who spearheaded the event after hearing from residents that learning how to become a successful physician, while balancing other priorities and personal interests, was top of mind.

“In the beginning, we set out to offer an event that would answer the question ‘can residents have it all?’ But, as we began digging deeper into the issue, the event focus soon evolved, expanding to look more holistically at the big picture: what does success mean? And how can residents find balance?,” says Davis, “From there, we set out to host a dynamic panel discussion with physicians leaders, with varying backgrounds, who could offer residents their advice and tips.”

Successful MD event panelists (left to right): Dr. Beth Taylor, Dr. Simon Pulfrey, Dr. Roanne Preston, and Dr. Randy Mackoff, and event moderator Dr. Rhonda Low.

Successful MD event panelists (left to right): Dr. Beth Taylor, Dr. Simon Pulfrey, Dr. Roanne Preston, and Dr. Randy Mackoff, and event moderator Dr. Rhonda Low.

For audience members, like UBC resident Fatima Allibhai, the event not only offered an opportunity to engage with, but learn from leading physicians.

“Attending the Successful MD event allowed myself and other residents to engage with other physicians who have also struggled with work-life balance. The opportunity to hear their own personal stories, to share in their trials and tribulations, and to discuss their abilities of coping and resiliency allowed residents to understand that it is ok to have disappointments, failures and setbacks,” says Dr. Allibhai. “Doctors are not perfect. We are not super-humans immune to hardships and personal struggles. We are humans inevitably just trying to all make our own personal lives work. The event helped myself and other residents appreciate this.”

According to Rebecca Turnbull, the RWO’s Resident Wellness Counsellor, supporting initiatives, like the Successful MD event, is important.

“Residents are at a very busy time in their lives, and a demanding point in their careers. Here at the Resident Wellness Office, we are very supportive of emerging opportunities for residents to strengthen their community of support, and talk openly about the importance of work-life balance,” says Turnbull, who offers counselling and support services to residents across the province.

Did you miss the Successful MD event? Watch the video recording of the panel discussion.