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Response to “A Physician-Researcher Thrives in the Balance”

Dear Editor,

I read with interest the following article: “A Physician-Researcher Thrives in the Balance” by Chelsea Ward, September 11, 2009.

I congratulate Dr. Regan Theiler on her accomplishments. However, I believe you are giving the wrong message to young women physician-researchers. In this article, Dr. Theiler had essentially stated that having a successful personal family life and a successful translational research career are both not possible. The author of the article further highlights this point in bold.

In the 21st century, I think that it is quite possible to be a physician-researcher and have a successful personal life. I am an example and so are many professional women that I interact with. The article implied that a career must be given up to have a good family life or vice versa. It is certainly not an example that I would share with my children or the upcoming women researchers of today. Perhaps it would be more important to share with others how successful women balance family and career.

Thanks for your attention.

Deepali Kumar MD MSc FRCPC
Assistant Professor of Medicine
Transplant Infectious Diseases
University of Alberta

Dear Dr. Kumar,

Thank you for taking the time to send us your thoughts about our recent profile of Regan Theiler. We are aware that Theiler’s statement was rather provocative. (To remind us all, here it is: “This career path is not for someone who wants to have a big, happy family and go on three vacations a year with them and eat dinner with them every night. It’s just not going to happen.”)

We are dedicated to promoting women in physician-scientist careers, and I know her statement seems to contradict that. Nevertheless, we thought it important to convey an honest account of Dr. Theiler’s experiences and opinions. In my interactions with the physician-scientist trainee community, there are many women (and men) who ask the question, “can I succeed at having both a family and a career?” Theiler gave her honest opinion, which I appreciate and I hope others do, too. But this answer will be different for people in different specialties, in different medical centers, and with different work ethics. Each person’s work-life balance is unique.

We will tell stories in future issues of women with different opinions on the subject, and we’ll tell the stories of women who do have families and different work-life interactions. Earlier this year, we published two articles on women physician-scientists — “Women M.D.-Ph.D.s: Life in the Trenches” and “Perspective: Ensuring Retention of Women in Physician-Scientist Training“.

I hope to publish more on the issue, and I hope there will be a lively discussion of the subject on our online community for clinical and translational scientists, which will launch in a few weeks. Meanwhile, I thank you for sharing your concern.

Kate Travis
Contributing editor, Science Careers
Editor, CTSciNet, the Clinical and Translational Science Network

3 comments on “Response to “A Physician-Researcher Thrives in the Balance””

  1. This conversation raises some good points. I think the discussion of career and family would benefit if we move away from the binary yes/no of “Can you have a family and career?” and towards more descriptive accounts of how real women have done it, the specific challenges they faced and how they dealt with them, and whether they are satisfied with the solution they found.

  2. anonymous says:

    This discussion is very timely. Thanks for posting!
    I agree that it is important to try to examine ways to be successful at both, and how to overcome the challenges. Perhaps even to propose solutions on a more grand (and policy-driving) scale?
    To simply give examples of women (or men, even) that have done both just to prove the point that it CAN be done does not do justice to all those who have battled to keep a balance and [for lack of a better word] lost, or in other words, had to choose one or the other (which in my experience is much more commonplace, unfortunately).
    The system seems set up to reward those who sacrifice their personal lives (of course; they’re more productive, right??), rather than retain as many good minds as possible for the greater good of the public welfare. I hope to be proven wrong, someday.

  3. Shaleen Botting says:

    While the system does seem to be slowly changing, it does and will always reward those who make the greatest sacrifices.
    Dr. Theiler is a good example of one young physician who has sacrificed even more of herself and her life to take on the additional role of a scientist. As a scientist she is judged against her peers such as myself, who do not have the clinical obligations that she has. As I sit in my office today reading publications, polishing off a grant, I know personally that she is in surgery. To her hospital administrators, her clinical performance is judged by billing units, which does not take into consideration the time she spent last week writing the next grant.
    The point of this article is that to be an accomplished physician-scientist, ones must not only sacrifice and compete as a scientist, but also as a physician. It is not meant for everyone and unfortunately I do not ever seeing it as an easy path to take.
    – Academic Scientist, Instructor for future Physician Scientists and Friend –

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