Associate life: Welcome to the circus

Associate life: Welcome to the circus

Living as an associate can feel like walking a tightrope and juggling all at the same time. Here's how four associates keep career, family, and personal life in the air without dropping any of them—too many times.
Feb 01, 2009

Whether you've just graduated from veterinary school or have practiced as an associate for a decade or more, the task before you is the same: to balance life and work. It's tough to earn a living doing what you love and also make time for your loved ones and personal pursuits outside the clinic. So we asked for advice from four experienced associates. They share the struggles they've grappled with and how they've found success both professionally and personally. Here's the gist, in a nutshell: Don't panic. Life balance is possible.

Dr. Andrew Rollo

Madison Veterinary Hospital, Madison Heights, Mich.

Dr. Andrew Rollo, a Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member, is the first to admit that in any profession it's easy to become obsessed with your work if you love it. There are always more educational opportunities, goals to achieve, and dollars to earn. But at the end of the day, who will you share these achievements with? Dr. Rollo finds that balancing work and life keeps both spheres vibrant.

And what inspires Dr. Rollo is his family, though the balance was hard to come by. Just over a year ago, Dr. Rollo was happy and motivated at a busy small-animal practice. It was the sort of setup that would thrill any associate—minus the 50-minute commute to the hospital. Between the drive to and from work and his practice schedule, Dr. Rollo was away from home 12 to 14 hours a day. At first, this suited the young doctor just fine. But then life took a turn.

"Last fall my wife and I found out we were pregnant," Dr. Rollo says. "As elated as I was with the news, there was an overbearing sense that I'd be missing out on little moments like bath time and putting my child to bed."

This doubt nagged at Dr. Rollo for months, during which time he learned about an opening at a hospital closer to home. The clinic practiced high-quality medicine and was similar in many ways to the hospital where Dr. Rollo was currently working. While he hadn't considered leaving his present post, the chance to work closer to home prompted him to discuss the move with his wife. As the months passed, the reality of pending fatherhood became even more clear as he shopped for car seats and attended baby CPR classes. Dr. Rollo interviewed for the job.

"Our child wasn't born yet, but I thought about all the things I'd miss during a 14-hour shift," Dr. Rollo says. "So when I was offered the job, I took it. I definitely felt guilty about leaving the first person who gave me a professional job and the team I'd grown close to. But I decided I wanted to read to my son before bed."

Now that his son is almost 6 months old, Dr. Rollo is thrilled with his decision. "For me, the important thing was to focus on family first and let the rest work itself out," he says. "I'm fortunate to be working for an employer who understands the importance of family. In my first month of employment, they gave me a week off when my son was born."

Dr. Rollo says new, excited associates often dive into jobs and work so hard that they never stop to smell the roses. It's an easy trap to fall into, he admits. After all, you've spent so much time furiously studying in school that other hobbies have gone by the wayside. Upon graduation the race doesn't let up, and life balance can get so out of whack that it's hard to find it again.

It's also not unusual for associates, particularly newbies, to get stuck working Saturdays, holiday weekends, and more. While you may not have much choice about that, Dr. Rollo says it's crucial to identify what's important and find time for it within your schedule. He has a favorite way to figure out if his life is off-kilter: writing the annual Christmas card. "If all I do is work, then I'm bound to write one boring card," he says.