Finding The Right Balance

eliza chin

Eliza Chin, MD, MPH, has a very long list of achievements (though you'd be hard pressed to get her to talk about them). Harvard Medical School graduate, Columbia University graduate, Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at Columbia and UCSF, featured physician in the NIH/National Library of Medicine's Exhibition on Women in Medicine, and published author. But her proudest achievement of all is, in her own words, "Being mom to three fabulous kids."

If you could say one thing to women working in health, what would it be?

"We have so many choices to create a path in medicine. There is no right or wrong way to do it. You can carve your niche and still make an impact on patients and medicine."

— Eliza Lo Chin, MD, MPH

Dr. Chin was preparing to begin her prestigious Columbia Fellowship when she and her husband, a surgical resident, learned the wonderful news that they were going to have a baby. Eliza decided to take a part-time faculty position so that she could begin the equally challenging work of raising a family. "Columbia was incredibly understanding when I withdrew my fellowship application and instead, offered me a faculty position working 80% time," explains Dr. Chin.

Four years later, and her husband was accepted into a fellowship program in California. At the time, the Chins were expecting their third child. After some serious soul-searching, they came to the decision that Eliza would take a brief reprieve from her clinical duties so that she could move the family cross-country and help the kids transition to their new environment. She became a full-time stay-at-home mom.

Was it a difficult choice for her? "You know, the hardest part was saying goodbye to my patients. But, no, the decision wasn't difficult; it just made sense."

Dr. Chin used her sabbatical not only to care for her children, but to edit This Side Of Doctoring: Reflections From Women in Medicine, a critically acclaimed collection of poems, stories, essays and quotations that capture the joy and heartbreak of being a woman and a physician. [link to book web site http://www.mommd.com/elizalochin/]. Three years later, she began practicing medicine again, treating geriatric patients in Northern California.

"It's definitely been challenging," Dr. Chin says when asked how she manages caring for three young children and a growing practice. "I worked my way slowly back in and built it up. I feel I've been incredibly lucky to have both: to be a part of my kids' lives and have a rewarding professional life. Despite how busy my schedule can be sometimes, it has all been well worth the effort."

Dr. Chin largely credits her decision to start a family on the positive influence of women in the medical profession. She explains, "Practice styles used to be 24/7. I think women coming into the profession have changed that — for men and for women. I've had a male physician come up to me and express his thanks to women physicians for making it possible to have a career and a family."

Along with a more balanced approached to professional life, Dr. Chin also believes that women bring a certain level of empathy to patient care. "I don't like making generalizations, but women typically have a comfortable bedside manner. They bring humanity to the patient/doctor relationship."

While women in medicine so often give so much of themselves to their patients and practice, Dr. Chin acknowledges it's not always easy for women to take time for themselves. "We do neglect ourselves. It's hard to find ways to make time for the things you enjoy, but you try. I just took a weekend glass flame-working class, and it was fabulous."

Medelita believes that professional women like Dr. Chin should be recognized and rewarded for the incredible balancing act they perform every day. When asked how she likes her new Medelita lab coat, Dr. Chin says, "The quality and durability are wonderful, and it feels great. I love it, and applaud them for taking a stand to create something special for women in healthcare."

Dr. Chin, wear it with pride. You've earned it!