At a time in everyone’s life, we come to find ourselves in a situation where the music stops, and we must go on.  The unfortunate truth about life is that the unexpected will happen. Some of us learn from it, some of us change because of it and some of us find our life’s calling because of it. The latter was the case for me.  After our dad picked us up from middle school, we spent that afternoon like we had every afternoon that month. We went to the oncology unit at the hospital, where my brother was admitted.



I remember him. I remember the man in the dark blue sarong the same way I remember the lines on back of my own hand. He was hunched over next to a column on a dirty platform at a railway station in Calcutta, India in the middle of the harsh summer sun. His hands were withered, his fingers and toes looked like tiny nubs, and he was completely malnourished and alone. He had opaque blue eyes, as if fog had taken place of his irises and pupils.



I studied insects in college; my favorite insects were the bees (I found them diligent and so helpful to humankind).  One of my favorite classes was about medical diseases caused by insects. My professors noticed my interest in the medical side of things and connected me with a professor who did clinical research. Our work focused on a clinical trial for children with intractable epilepsy and exposed me early on to patient care and patients.


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Give the gift of time. Healthy parents don’t find time; they make time. Giving your child some “special time” helps to develop a close relationship with your child. Collaborate with your child to help you decide how to spend this time. You could read books, sing songs, go for a walk, play a game—whatever your child enjoys. If you can create a predictable ritual, your children will depend on it and look forward to their time with you. The more you are able to spend quality time with your child the stronger your relationship will be.

Promote open communication channels. Strong families feel secure and safe in expressing their thoughts and feelings. Practice active listening by delaying your response until you’ve communicated back to them what you think you’ve heard, i.e., “I hear you saying that you don’t like your brother and you seem pretty angry. Is that right?”  

By giving your full attention and resisting giving advice until you fully understand what the other person is saying to you, you create a safe place for family members to communicate openly with you.

Use “I” messages. “I” messages help us to clearly communicate our thoughts and feelings. They also are a way to decrease the chances that an argument will occur. “You” messages should be discouraged because they often lead to shaming and seldom resolve the problem.

An example of a “you” message would be, “What’s wrong with the two of you? You kids are making me crazy! Can’t you ever get along?” An “I” message could be reconstructed as this, “I don’t like all this fighting. It upsets me to see the two of you not getting along.”

Set boundaries to protect your personal time and time with your family. Say “no” and say it often. Physicians are natural caregivers, but frequently sacrificing family time to meet the needs of others is a recipe for personal burnout and a dysfunctional family.

Be the person you want your children to emulate. What do your children see modeled in your character? Do they see truth, honesty and integrity in action? Are you a healthy example of how to successfully resolve conflict? Do you express emotions in a healthy way and do you encourage them to do the same?

The greatest gift you can give your child is who you are. It’s true that how you live your life will have a much greater impact on shaping your children than the time spent instructing them on how to live.

Create an encouraging environment. An encouraging environment is one in which you spend more time building up your loved ones rather than scolding and correcting them. Try to emphasize what you see them doing right rather than focusing on their mistakes. A positive focus creates a felt sense of safety among family members which is critical to forming strong bonds.

When asked what people value most in their lives, family is almost always listed first as a priority. Step back and take an objective appraisal of the time and attention you give your family to see if your current lifestyle actually reflects that stated priority. It’s far too easy to let the demands of a purposeful career crowd out what is truly most important in your life—your family.

There’s a difference between living a life of purpose that is in balance and one that isn’t. If you listen to your heart, you’ll know the difference.

About the Author

Dr. Steven Smith along with Dr. Sandra Hough are licensed psychologists with The Woodland Group and they are administrators of the LMS Physician Wellness Program.

The quality of our family life has a major impact upon the quality of our work life. Family discord and conflict often seeps its way into the workplace, which can result in reduced concentration, increased mistakes, and a greater susceptibility to burnout. Strong physician families actually provide a buffer to workplace stress and offer a place for support and renewal.

But what are the qualities that create a strong and healthy family? What is it that distinguishes healthy families from those that are not? Research in this area has repeatedly identified several patterns of behavior that characterize healthy families. The following is a list of suggested ways to cultivate those behaviors.

Slow down and engage with your family. All relationships need attention. Families who spend time together are more likely to build stronger ties than those that don’t. However, that time doesn’t count if it’s spent sitting passively together in front of a screen. It also doesn’t count if it’s spent arguing. In other words, quality trumps quantity.

In today’s busy world it can be difficult for families to find time to be together. If you’re too busy to eat dinner with your family, then perhaps you’re simply too busy. Once children are of age, the dinner table can become a place to share stories, family history, and talk about what’s happening in their lives. Spending time together with activities such as playing games, taking walks,sharing household chores, and watching a movie together help to strengthen family bonds.


Also, don’t forget to take advantage of the moments spent in the car or in traffic to talk to your kids about your day and ask them about theirs.

How do you know if your work life is usurping your family life? Ask your family members because they will likely feel the effects before you do. They are the canary in the coalmine.

Get off of or limit your time on social media. Social media is very stimulating to our brains and many experience a dopamine release when they engage with it. As a result, we can easily be sucked into this digital vortex and give away precious time. Additionally, we often attempt to multitask as we scan social media. Our attention gets fragmented as we attempt to have a conversation while scrolling through a social media app.

Multitasking is a myth because your brain in incapable of simultaneously processing separate streams of information from multiple tasks. Give your children and spouse your full attention when having a conversation. Turn off the TV and mute your phone. By doing that you’re sending a message that validates their importance to you.