Balancing my Neurosurgical Career and Family
Author: Carrie Muh, MD
I am the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Westchester Medical Center in NY—an academic medical center, busy county hospital, and regional trauma center. I am happily married, and mom to three amazing kids, ages 6, 8, and 10.
I recently moved to Weschester after eight years at Duke University Medical Center. While a large, well-established, university center certainly has advantages, a smaller, growing community like WMC allows more opportunities to expand the division and develop new programs and multi-disciplinary centers for our patients. Our pediatric hospital, Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital, has the only PICU in the region, and we are the teaching hospital for New York Medical College. This allows us to offer state of the art care in a local, personal setting; we get to teach residents and medical students, and treat a wide range of patients and neurosurgical disorders.
Like many neurosurgeons, my family and my work are both incredibly important to me and I labor to balance them.
While I may not “have it all,” I have found that I can have those things I prioritize. So, I don’t sleep enough, I haven’t been to an exercise class in months, and I rarely spend time with friends unless we have kids the same age and we call it a “playdate”; but those are deliberate choices in order to devote time to what matters most at this stage of life. I am able to spend quality time with my family so my kids know how much I adore them, and I am able to spend the time I need to achieve my goals at work so I enjoy going to the hospital every day and seeing my practice and patients thrive.
Achieving balance requires accepting help. I truly like my partners and our smaller department feels like a family. We can depend on each other to help with difficult cases or cover for one another when needed. Outside the hospital, in addition to a superb nanny, I rely heavily on my husband who makes time in his own busy work schedule to be a terrific father. I could not have achieved the goals I have set for myself, professionally or personally, without a supportive partner at home.
I make it home for dinner and bedtime as often as possible—even if it means signing notes or writing papers long after the kids are asleep. As soon as I get home, I ask the kids about their day – who did they play with, what fun things did they learn at school, what were the best and worst parts of their day? Hearing about their friends and classes is wonderfully relaxing and is usually the best part of my day!
One-on-one time with each of the kids is important for us. Often, if I have a weekend day free, one of the kids will choose an activity—anything from ice skating or going to a playground, to manicures or painting at a craft studio. These one-on-one days keep me up to date on their lives. I also volunteer at school when I can, and they love when I teach their classes about the brain and bring in plastic brains for their classmates to take apart.
My kids often come to the hospital with me on Sundays; they love seeing the fish tank and watching the helicopter. Friendly nurses chat with them in conference rooms while I round, and they get to know my residents. They know what I do and they support me, so when I get stuck in the OR and miss an important event now and then, they don’t resent my patients. They love that I get to help kids, and frequently tell me they are proud of me! Working at a small academic hospital has provided me with the opportunities to achieve the successful balance I need.