My First Two Months as a Family Doctor

As the first snowflakes of the season fall briskly and purposefully to the ground, I feel grateful to be working as a family doctor. Although the news about our strained healthcare system is often grim, I am proud to be part of it and can only hope that things will get better for healthcare workers and patients alike.

It has been about two months since I started working as a licensed family doctor at a community clinic close to home. It has been a fairly smooth transition from residency life. In fact, I have felt the layers of stress melt off, leaving me feeling much more balanced compared to the last 6 years of my medical training. Part of this is unique to my situation. I was not your traditional medical student. I started medical school in my mid-thirties as a married mother of two young children with a career already behind me. I lived far from my university and training hospitals, facing a 2-3 hour daily commute, often in a mental fog when driving back from an overnight shift. The mum guilt was real as I woke up morning after morning, the house quiet and dark as I stepped out early before rush hour traffic, my husband and children still fast asleep. Many times I asked myself if I had made the right decision leaving behind a stable senior position, throwing our routine and finances out of whack as I headed back to school. The amount of tears shed and the toll on my mental health were at times severe.

Now that I am on the other side of training, I can say the sacrifices were worth it. My family learned how to pool together to support each other during those more difficult moments. My husband, ever patient and supportive found ways to encourage me during those long shifts, sending me funny videos of the kids singing goodnight to me and sending me virtual hugs and kisses. Now, that I have more time with the kids, I hold this time so precious as just a short time ago, I was pining for them. Simple things like playing a board game at the dinner table give me so much joy.

My first two months working independently have truly been a rewarding experience in many ways. I work with a wonderful team who are encouraging and made it easy for me to transition to working at the clinic. I love the variety of patients I see every day. My youngest patient is a newborn while my oldest is 95 years old. Each day brings something new and unpredictable. I am intellectually stimulated, challenged, puzzled, and humbled every day! There are of course difficult days and challenging interactions however this has only been an opportunity to grow and refine my social skills.

Currently, I feel that there is a good balance between work, family life, social life and my hobbies. I could always work more but I recognize that doing so would be a risk to my mental health and family life. If residency taught me anything, it is that life is short and we must live according to our values. For me that means doing meaningful work in a healthy way while being there for my family and friends.

Summer Travel and Tips for Your Future Trips!

The summer has just flown by! I am so grateful for the wonderful experiences I have had!

After the excitement of completing residency at the end of June, my family and I went on a much anticipated vacation from our home in Canada to Italy and Austria in July. We spent 18 days exploring Rome, Venice and Vienna, hopping from one Airbnb to another! We must have taken every form of transportation available and the kids loved it! The best things I enjoy about travelling are the planning and seeing the excitement and enjoyment on my family’s faces when they see what is in store for them!

Let’s start with Rome…wow! Mind blown! I knew it would be breathtaking but it was even better than we imagined! Despite the sweltering temperatures, the kids were great sports, enduring a 3 hour guided tour of the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, wandering through the fascinating artifacts of the Vatican Museum and running happily on the cobble stones of St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican City. We also enjoyed visiting the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Tiber River and exploring underground catacombs!

Our Airbnb was located in a charming area called Trastevere and the kids quickly adapted to the routine of running to the bus stop 2 minutes away to begin the day’s activities. Part of the fun was figuring out the public transport system and getting around (thank goodness for my husband’s great spatial awareness…I, on the other hand!)

After Rome had won our hearts for 5 days, we took a 4-hour high speed Trenitalia train to Venice. Wow again! We were blown away by the magnificent architecture surrounded by water as far as the eye could see. The kids absolutely loved taking the water bus! As we hopped off to make our way to our Airbnb, we were mesmerized by Venice! We spent most of the time doing unplanned activities, just exploring and walking around. We felt it was a nice contrast to the busyness of Rome where most days were planned. It was also quieter and more peaceful.

After a heartwarming stay in Venice for 4 days, we took the 1-hour Alilaguna ferry to Venice’s Marco Polo Airport where we took a 1-hour flight to Vienna. We had decided to add Vienna to our itinerary because my dear sweet mother who lives in Nairobi, Kenya (and who I had not seen in 5 years!) has always wanted to visit so we colluded with my brothers to bring her over to Vienna to join us! It was fantastic. Vienna has its own special charm, the architecture is magnificent! We visited the Vienna State Opera House, went on a tour in an electrovintage car, went to classical concerts with opera and ballet, took a cruise on the Danube River and made our own chocolate at a chocolate museum. We spent about a week in Vienna and it was lovely!

Travel tips that worked for us:

  1. Airbnb instead of hotel to bring down costs
  2. Check in online for your flights – saves time at the airport
  3. Travel with hand luggage only and avoid checking in luggage if possible – saves time at the airport and the hassle of lost luggage
  4. If staying at an airbnb for a prolonged vacation, carry about 5-7 days changes of clothes (or whatever can fit in hand luggage) and then just throw in laundry machine as you go along
  5. If kids are old enough, let them lug their own hand luggage (our kids were 8 and 10 years old at the time and were responsible for packing their suitcases and moving them around)
  6. Airbnb tips – check reviews (of course!), choose one that is close to grocery stores and public transport, has full kitchen (if you plan to cook and keep food in fridge), has AC and at least a washing machine. Cost of airbnb is cheaper, less noisy if away from downtown. For all our airbnbs, we could get to downtown within 10-15 minutes by public transport which worked well.
  7. We booked all our activities using GetYourGuide and Airbnb apps. You get a QR code which is scanned prior to entry to the activity. Most activities could be cancelled up until the day before for a full refund.
  8. Spend some days without planning anything, just walk around, people watch, find hidden less well known areas.
  9. Always carry snacks and water (especially if travelling with kids!)
  10. Carry some cash with you for those places that do not accept credit cards
  11. Acknowledge that things may not always go as planned and go with the flow!
  12. Document your trip by creating a photo-book that you can display in your home for guests and for you to walk down memory lane. I created one with MixBook that has 40-50% discounts for your first project!

We had such a wonderful time travelling that we think we may have been bitten by the travel bug! It has been such a great family bonding experience!

Done with Residency! Officially a Family Doctor!

When I started this blog in 2014, I was contemplating leaving my steady job as a research scientist to go to medical school to pursue a long time dream to become a physician. At times, it seemed like an impossible mountain to climb. How would this work with young kids, my husband working full time and living over an hour away from the nearest medical school?

Obstacles aside, I started medical school in 2016 and thankfully matched to a challenging but great Family Medicine program in 2020. And now in 2022, I am finally done with my training! Doing my entire residency in the context of the COVID pandemic presented its own unique set of challenges but through it all I can say that I have grown in so many positive ways and have met so many wonderful people along the way!

I am excited to be starting my practice as a family doctor with a great team at a clinic close to where I I live. I will first take the summer off to recuperate and spend more time with family and friends before starting my practice.

I am so thankful to my amazing husband for patiently supporting me on this long journey, for my beautiful kids, family and friends who stood by when things got really tough. And to my Heavenly Father for the strength and grace He gave me to persevere.

Remember, our greatest dreams often require some form of sacrifice but with focus and determination, and with key people to support us, we can make it to the end and succeed!

Thank you for following along on this journey!

Graduation party hosted by my awesome friends!

Remembering Those Lost to COVID 19 and War

Pandemic, war, climate change, hot housing markets, soaring gas and food prices…Reading the news can make one feel discouraged and disillusioned, perhaps even helpless. Many are struggling financially, physically and mentally.

A recent Canadian survey reported that many Canadians felt that the last 2 years navigating the pandemic were the worst 2 years of their lives. Many people lost loved ones, were ill mentally or physically, became unemployed, isolated, faced financial ruin, not to mention the divisiveness brought about by the vaccinated versus unvaccinated debate.

As a healthcare provider, I have certainly witnessed these struggles firsthand and hope that in whatever way possible, I can make life a bit better for every individual I come across, be it with a listening ear, a smile, or successful management of a physical or mental ailment.

On this day, as we mark 2 years since the WHO first declared the COVID 19 pandemic, I want to take a moment to remember those who have died, those who have cried, those who have struggled. We have faced this together as an entire global community and we will emerge stronger than we realize. I also want to take a moment to remember those facing war in Ukraine and other areas around the world. It is surreal and heartbreaking.

No words I can say would be enough to cover the magnitude of what is going on in the world today but we have to have hope that things will get better.

Residency Updates…and the Pursuit of Peace

Hello dear readers!

A happy (belated) new year!

I can hardly believe it has been almost 6 years since I changed careers from working as a research scientist to pursuing a career in medicine. Four years of medical school and almost 2 years of residency later, I can say that through all the smiles and tears, it was worth it and I feel blessed to have such a rewarding career.

Since my last update, I have completed rotations in ER, family medicine, mental health and radiology. I am currently doing pediatrics ER which, although has unusual work hours, has been a great rotation so far!

Lots of great things to report…I obtained the provincial permit that will allow me to practice in my region and I have a job lined up at a great clinic where I previously did some of my rotations. It is close to home (so happy to leave the long commute and traffic behind!) and based in a beautiful area close to the water. The team I will work with is fantastic!

I have my final licensing exams in April and will be done residency at the end of June (4 months 9 days 21 hours and 34 minutes to go, but who’s counting!) I plan to take the summer off to travel and spend more time with the family, with the goal of starting practice at the end of August.

Over the past few months, I have definitely struggled with anxiety and at times felt like I was running a marathon with my energy slowly fading. I was encouraged by the verses in Philippians that encourage us to “press on towards the goal” and that “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds“.

I also regularly meditated on this verse from 2 Timothy 1:7 “for the Lord has not given us a spirit of fear but of power, love and sound mind.” I like to break down this verse into 3 parts, essentially replacing fear with 3 things:

  1. Power: the strength, motivation and resilience that we need to face each day and every challenge that comes along
  2. Love: focusing outwardly on loving others and giving others our best, showing ourselves self-love, being less critical of ourselves and focusing less on what others think of us
  3. Sound mind: mental resilience, a mind at peace, letting go of the worries about the future and things that are outside of our control

As always, I am continually thankful for my beautiful children and my wonderful husband who has painstakingly supported me through out this whole process, never complaining, never wavering, but being my solid rock when I was weak! Exciting news to follow in the next few months as we plan HIS career change! Stay tuned!

Residency Updates…and the Art of Taking it Easy

Time is just flying by! Today marks the end of the first 4 months as a second-year resident. I completed my second batch of internal medicine rotations as well as my rural rotations. I absolutely loved my rural rotations! I can definitely feel my confidence as a doctor growing and am thankful that there are always more experienced physicians around to consult when I feel unsure about things. This summer was also wonderful as we did quite a bit of camping which the kids loved. And as COVID restrictions loosen, it has been great to spend time with friends and family!

I have just finished reading a great book on managing stress entitled “The Art of Taking it Easy” by comedian/psychologist Dr. Brian King. Some key points from the book include:

Try not to dwell on things that are out of your control

View challenges as a problem to be solved (rather than something to be avoided at all costs). This trains us to become resilient and better able to handle future challenges. This point fits in very nicely with a verse from the Bible that a good friend shared with me this week “But I prayed, now strengthen my hands” Nehemiah 6:9. The idea being that when Nehemiah (cupbearer to the Persian king in ~5th century B.C.) faced challenges regarding the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, he prayed for strength to handle the challenge rather than praying to be taken out of that challenging situation.

Practice daily gratitude, be specific and write down or reflect on something you are grateful for that happened TODAY.

What are YOU grateful for today?

Summer/ Fall family fun!

Unleashing Your Potential

One of the many techniques I use to stay motivated at work is to read inspiring material. I recently finished the book “How to Train Your Brain like an Olympian: Gold Medal Techniques to Unleash Your Potential at Work” by Jean Francois Menard.

I was intrigued by the title. What does the every day worker have to do with Olympic athletes? The author draws many parallels which I found both fascinating and motivating!

Here are just a few points from the book:

  1. Celebrate the small wins: when we have a goal that requires hard-work, sacrifice, and may take a significant amount of time to accomplish, it can seem overwhelming and unattainable. By breaking it down into smaller pieces and acknowledging your efforts in completing even just one step towards that goal, this will keep you motivated to keep going
  2. Failing does not make you a failure: Failing does not mean the end. It is merely a temporary setback that can be overcome and from which we can grow.
  3. Challenging goals: if we are not finding the journey towards a goal difficult or if we do not face any struggles along the way, the goal is not challenging enough for us to grow!

We are not always in control of our situation but we can choose how we respond to the circumstances we face. We can decide on our attitude and work ethic.

First Year of Residency is Done! And…Work-Life Tips to Keep you Motivated!

Yesterday marked the end of my first year of residency! I can’t believe how fast the year flew by. As I reflect on the past year, I can say that overall it has been a good experience. I definitely had some very tough moments but I also feel that I have grown so much in my confidence as a doctor. I have worked with some incredible co-residents, staff physicians, medical students, nurses and other wonderful health professionals. It was inspiring to work together as a team, particularly through the challenges of a pandemic!

I wanted to share some of the strategies I used through the past year to keep me motivated:

Weekly goals: this could be something as simple as exercise for 10 minutes a day or read for 15 minutes before bed. Having a goal gives us something to work towards and gives a sense of achievement when completed.

Going out in nature: walks in the woods, lying on the grass in the backyard and daydreaming with the clouds, tuning in to the sounds of birds, the leaves rustling in the wind…nourishment for the soul!

Meeting up with friends and family: this was a challenging one given the restrictions imposed by the pandemic however still possible with all the incredible technology we have today, and now that restrictions are loosening as vaccination rates ramp up, it has been fantastic to physically be with friends and family

Hobbies: I love to play the piano and get a lot of enjoyment out of playing with other musicians too. Despite the pandemic restrictions, I still treasured those moments when we were permitted to play on stage at church on Sunday mornings.

Time-management: between a 2 hour or more daily commute to and from the hospital, managing the household, helping kids with homework etc, it has been essential to be as efficient as possible with time. I generally do most of my reading via audiobooks or podcasts during my commute or when doing mundane household tasks such as cleaning and laundry. Delegation and sharing tasks is also important! I could not have made it this far without the incredible support of my husband…I can’t remember the last time I actually washed a dish as he is the lean, mean, dish-washing machine! Dirty dishes miraculously disappear in his presence! Just one of the many things he does around the house. And now that our kids are getting older (9 and 7 years old), assigning them tasks not only helps me out but gives them a sense of responsibility (at least I like to think so….although their groans and complaining don’t always support my theory!)

Quiet time: Alone time is not always easy to come by but I find is essential for me to re-charge. It is also my time to seek quiet solitude in prayer, thanksgiving and Bible-reading.

Of course, even with all these strategies, I was not always on top of things. No one can be 100% of the time. We have to be kind to ourselves and not beat ourselves up when things slip. The important thing is to get back up when we fall and keep going!

On to my second (and final!) year of residency! Stay tuned!

Finance Talk: Tracking Your Spending

My last blog post was an introduction to tackling personal finance. Today, I would like to talk about tracking your spending. There are many useful apps out there and different methods to track spending. You can find a list of useful apps here.

The approach that has worked best for us is three-fold:

  1. Simplifying my budget to have only 4 categories
  2. Reviewing my bank accounts twice a day to assess spending
  3. Monthly review of spending

Simplifying Your Budget

My approach to budgeting completely changed after reading the book “Money-Free Money” by Shannon Lee Simmons. Before, I had endless rows of categories in my budget, feeling pained every time we went over budget in a particular category. It was almost impossible to stick to because each month had variations in spending that were sometimes out of our control. Without further ado, here are the 4 categories to simplify your budget:

  1. Monthly Spending: this is the money you will use for things that generally occur every month, yet are variable in amount. This includes things such as groceries, gas, kids’ activities, dining out, books, entertainment. You will get to this amount by adding up all the amounts in these categories and arriving at the total amount that you should try not to exceed every month. If any is left over at the end of the month, you could transfer to savings or leave it in your account as a reward for something special the next month.
  2. Short Term Savings: This is for “spikes” in spending that occur in the course of the year. This can include clothes, gifts, donations, birthday parties, vacations.
  3. Emergency Savings: This is for unanticipated expenses that may crop up in the course of the year. This can include things such as house and car repairs and maintenance.
  4. Fixed Expenses: these are expenses such as phone bills, subscriptions, electricity, mortgage etc.

There are different ways of keeping track of the above 4 categories. For us, we use the following:

  1. Four different bank accounts: our bank allows this with no extra fees. This makes it easier for us to track our different categories of expenses and savings
  2. Excel spread sheet: this helps me to keep better track of individual items in each category if I so choose. For example, if I have set aside $500 for clothes for the family for the year, then I use an excel formula to subtract from $500 every time I make a clothing purchase. This can also be done with apps of course.
  3. Our banking app has an inbuilt function that breaks down spending in each category. This is not always accurate depending how the app chooses to categorize things, however it gives a general idea of spending

Reviewing Your Spending (Daily)

It’s important to review spending regularly as we often spend more than we think and little amounts add up quickly. Over the last several months, we were able to reduce our spending by several hundred dollars by tracking our spending regularly. I soon discovered that spending in certain areas was not matching up with our budget.

I choose to check my bank account once in the morning and once in the evening mainly because many of our bills and purchases come out of our credit card (yay, reward points!) and our goal is to pay back the credit card the same day that an amount is drawn from it. I find doing this twice a day works best for us as I sometimes forget if I paid off an amount or not and there is sometimes a lag between when you pay off an amount and when it shows up on your credit card.

Reviewing Your Spending (Monthly)

Finally, I like to do a monthly review in order to tweak my budget if there are some areas I actually spend less or more in. This is also a good time to assess if any further expense cutting can be done. Haven’t used a paid subscription all month? Perhaps now is a good time to unsubscribe!

I hope this post has been helpful. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to comment below or you can also reach me at thepotentialdoctor@gmail.com

Let’s Talk About Finances

One of the great things about being married to my husband is that he has instilled in me the habit of voracious reading. I always loved to read as a child but when I first started high school at a very competitive, demanding private school, my love of reading for pleasure was somehow replaced with the demands of studying and obtaining good grades.

My husband readily makes his way through 20+ books a month, most of them audiobooks. I am nowhere near my husband’s level of reading at this time but I have been managing around 4 books a month through a combination of audiobooks, kindle e-books and a few hard copies.

With my 2 hour + commute to and from work daily, this is when I get most of my reading done. I usually include something inspirational on my way to work to get me in the right mindset for the day and then listen to a medicine-related podcast on my home to get in some studying. My “sit-down” reading usually occurs on Saturday and Sunday mornings before the kids are awake and just before bed during the week.

With this in mind, I would like to share with you what I have been reading. The first set of books I want to share with you is related to the topic of Finances. I have to confess that I was at first hesitant to write about this topic as it would mean revealing details about our own personal financial status which is not easy to talk about. But I feel that I had to share this because most people have struggled with finances at some point and the more we can learn on the subject, the more we can feel empowered to make a change and rise above our circumstances!

In 2016, I forfeited my income from my previous career to go to medical school. I knew that delaying my income for 4 years plus taking on debt to pay for medical school and help support the family was going to put a big dent in our finances. My husband and I considered it a worthwhile investment with the added reward of pursuing a career which gave me a sense of purpose. We were however faced with the reality of trying to get our finances back on track.

When I started residency last year and started to have an income again, I was torn between saving the money versus paying down our debt. This has been the subject of much debate and I finally concluded from my study of various sources that the decision is a very personal one and there is no one right or wrong answer. Some choose to do one or the other, or both. For us, we have chosen to do a bit of both because our debt is low-interest debt and we want to invest more aggressively now since we are already in our early 40s. Before plunging into my intense reading around the subject of finances, I realized I was somewhat floating along without a very clear sense of direction for our finances. I knew the basic principles of course but was there more I could learn? Sure there was!

For me the first step was overhauling our budget and taking a close look at where our money was actually going. Then, findings ways to cut down on expenses such as car, home insurance, cell phone bills, and groceries. I have to confess that in my past life, I barely glanced at my bank account in the course of a month. Money came in, money went out….rinse and repeat! Now, I check my account twice a day (once in the morning and once in the evening)…I will elaborate on why this works so well in a subsequent post. Suffice to say, this approach has saved us close to $400 a month over the past few months.

My husband and I are also fairly new to investing and have made some changes to our savings plans…more on how to do this in a future post! The point I really want to drive home is that it is never too late to get a handle on your finances. Every small change you make today can have a significant impact on tomorrow! Don’t let debt discourage you…the debt will eventually be eliminated, and your savings will grow with time! As an example, by refining our budget and sticking to a reasonable debt repayment plan, we have been able to pay back $20,000 in the last 9 months without having to eat only beans for supper every night. This is with average 5 figure incomes for both my husband and I.

So without further ado, here are my top 6 books on Finances and Investing that I have read this year (all available on Amazon). The authors give excellent, practical advice with additional resources for your information.

For fine-tuning your budget in a simple, straightforward manner and coming up with a feasible debt repayment plan:

1.Worry-Free Money by Shannon Lee Simmons

2. Living Debt-free by Shannon Lee Simmons

For principles on wealth building:

3. Millionaire Teacher, The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School by Andrew Hallam

4. Money Mastery: Making Sense of Making Money for Making a Difference by Billy Epperhart (I like that the focus of this book is ultimately using your wealth to benefit others)

For introductions to investing:

5. Beat the Bank, The Canadian Guide to Simply Successful Investing by Larry Bates

6. Stock Market Investing for Beginners

Stay tuned for my next post on how tracking your spending for just a few minutes a day can save you hundreds of dollars a month!