Balancing Family With Career Goals During an Oncology Fellowship

Nathan Hale, DO, MS
Published: Wednesday, Nov 01, 2017
Dike Drummond, MD
Dike Drummond, MD
The garage door starts to close, and I step out of the car. I can hear the squeals of joy from my 5 kids. The stresses of work vanish, even if for only a moment. I step through the door, and I am swarmed by small children clamoring for my attention. This kind of reception would make Mickey Mouse jealous. Then I come back to reality as my 8-year-old says, “Hey Dad,” without moving from the couch. Kids become too cool so fast. His action—or lack thereof—reminds me that time is swiftly passing.

Just 3 years ago, I delivered the crushing blow to my wife that I wanted to pursue an oncology fellowship. Medical school and residency is typically no walk through the park, and she was ready to move on to the next phase in our life. I questioned whether my career goals aligned with our family goals. Now, I pride myself on being a family guy, putting my family first, so I had to ask myself, “Is a fellowship the best thing for my family?” The answer to that question had to be an unequivocal “yes” before pursuing any oncology fellowship.

Oncology fellows have many aspects to their lives, and corresponding to each aspect, we have goals. In order to accomplish it all, these goals can’t be in conflict. Too often, without realizing it, doctors set goals that make sense on their own, but that compete with each other. We can’t let completing 1 goal render another impossible. When we set our goals, we must make sure that they’re cohesive enough to ensure that all can be obtained.

As fathers, we must prioritize families. Fathers are critically important to the success of a family; they are a vital component. If you don’t believe me, then visit the National Fatherhood Initiative’s website ( There you can find countless statistics outlining the importance of fatherhood. We must ensure that our career goals don’t conflict with the goals we have for our families. A goal is the destination, and a plan is the route. Those who accomplish the most develop a plan, then spend the time to make sure the goal is reached. Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” Why is that? Well, it’s all about time management.

Time management begins with establishing priorities. I recently participated in a conference during which, as an icebreaking exercise, the audience was asked: If you could have 1 superpower, what it would be? The conference was attended by physicians of all specialties, and the majority selected a superpower that would create more time.

Time is our most limited and valuable commodity, and since it is limited, the best goals work synergistically. For example, choosing the right fellowship is important to creating synergistic goals. This decision requires you to be clear on what you want out of your fellowship: experience, mentorship, prestige, etc. The other aspects of life, particularly family life, can’t be paused, nor should we want to try. You can’t say, “I can do anything for a few years,” while neglecting your family. Our families keep us grounded, love and support us, and bring us fulfillment. These things sustain us, hone our abilities, and can make us more efficient. We can accomplish our goals without sacrificing our time with our families, but this requires a well thought out plan. Maybe it means selecting a city where you can afford a comfortable home, have a minimal commute to work, or live near extended family.

View Conference Coverage
Online CME Activities
TitleExpiration DateCME Credits
Community Practice Connections™: 14th Annual International Symposium on Melanoma and Other Cutaneous Malignancies®Apr 30, 20192.0
Oncology Consultations®: The Advancing Role of CAR T-Cell Therapies in Hematologic MalignanciesApr 30, 20191.5
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