October 21st, 2018

A Day in the Life of the Academic Assistant Professor of Medicine Who Wakes Up at 5:30 a.m. to Get Her Kids to School, Takes the Bus to Work, Answers Emails, Completes Online Required Modules, and Fills Out Disability Forms for Her Patients

(Inspired by a recent peculiar article about a Bay Area tech superstar.)

Dr. Camilla Gormley is always on the move.

From the moment her alarm wakes her at 5:30 a.m. to prepare breakfast and school lunches for her three kids, to the time 16-plus hours later when she can finally rest her head on her pillow, Dr. Gormley is constantly in motion.

On a typical day, after bundling up her kids to be dropped off at school by her husband Jack — if he’s not traveling for work, in which case she (somehow) has to do it — she can be seen running after the bus which, on a good day, will have an available seat and not smell like last night’s frat party.

She recently shared with us the rhythms and rewards of being a Junior Faculty member at a prestigious academic medical center.

5:30 a.m.: She wakes up and immediately panics that she has forgotten an important deadline.

“I find that this early time of day is perfect for free-ranging anxiety and panic,” says Gormley. “It’s a tremendous relief when I realize that I don’t in fact have a school paper due, or an exam today — though one of my three kids might.”

The first task for the day is feeding her family, which consists of a streamlined operation that efficiently generates five breakfasts, two coffees, and four bagged lunches. Husband Jack takes orders and has learned the hard way not to talk back.

“He once expressed doubts about my selection of bread for the kids’ sandwiches,” she recalls. “He found himself alone on food duty for the next month, which was a disaster for all. But that will teach him.”

6:30 a.m.: She wakes her kids and helps them get dressed and ready for the day.

“My son Zack will wear anything, he’s easy,” she says proudly. “Same with Jenna, the youngest.”

But, she notes, middle child Phoebe can be a challenge. “Not a week passes by without her wanting some crazy new style to wear, nothing’s ever right,” she says. “We’re at the point where if she told me she wanted to wear her bathing suit to school in the middle of winter, I’d just give in. Sick of it, really.”

7:00 a.m.: Dr. Gormley gets in some intense cardio by running for the bus.

“If I miss the 7:05 — which stops right at our corner — I’ll never make it to work in time for my 8 a.m. patient.”

She spends the time on the bus catching up on emails that were sent overnight.

She shares one request: “Can we outlaw the ‘high importance’ exclamation mark in emails, please?” she asks. “And people who use that for emails sent overnight should be imprisoned.”

8:25: Her 8 o’clock patient shows up — as does her 8:30.

“Of course, I saw her anyway,” she said, of her late-arriving patient. “And she had a disability form for me to fill out — putting my MD degree to work!”

It’s fall, so it’s flu shots for everyone — except the patient who refused, saying it always gave him the flu.

“Oh, give me a break,” she editorializes.

12:45 p.m.: After seeing her outpatients, she paused for a quick lunch at her desk — but didn’t stop working.

“You know those corporate lunches in Mad Men, with martinis and glamorous companions in Manhattan restaurants?” she asks.

“My companion is my office computer with a required online video about fire safety.”

1 p.m.: Time to check the electronic “inbox” on her electronic medical record!

“Usually the in box has another couple of hours of work in there, at least,” she says.

“I feel like the EMR inbox should have a sign that says, Open at Your Own Risk, or Ye Who Enter Here, Abandon All Hope.

3 p.m.: Dr. Gormley attends a meeting about the medical school course she’s teaching in the fall. The meeting is in a conference room half a mile away, so she debates whether to walk or to Uber — she’s so undecided that she arrives 15 minutes late, as does almost everyone else.

“Teaching in this course is awesome,” she says. “But why are all the meetings held so far from the hospital?”

Also not so great — deadlines for submission of PowerPoint slides and the dreaded requirement for “learning objectives.”

“Has there ever been a study showing that submitting ‘learning objectives’ actually led to more learning?” she wonders. “What if I just ignore the request?” she says, a sly smile creeping over her face.

4 p.m.: She’s back in her office, poring over emails that have accumulated since she last had a moment to check.

“Let’s see, there are 58 messages here,” she notes. “I think I’ll do the ones marked as ‘high importance’ last, just for revenge.”

Included in the email barrage are several invitations to bogus medical conferences (“Greetings of the day!” they begin), as well as sales pitches for laboratory reagents, monoclonal antibodies, and small rodents.

“Why do I get emails asking if I want reagents for doing my own CRISPR experiments or for a supply of knockout mice?” she asks. “That reminds me, I need to call the exterminator for the ant problem we have at home.”

She also receives a dire warning — yes, ‘high importance’ exclamation point — that the annual Conflict of Interest form (required of all faculty) is overdue.

5:45 p.m.: As a big believer in never wasting a single moment, Dr. Gormley starts the online Conflict of Interest form on her phone while waiting outside for the bus.

“Last week I started it three times and it kept crashing,” she says.

“Apparently, if you do it at your computer, you need to be running Internet Explorer. Internet Explorer! I mean, could they please start using a browser that is updated for this century? Is that so much to ask?”

Completing the form takes her approximately 30 minutes, which completely ends all hope of listening to that great podcast everyone has been talking about, whatever it’s called.

6:30 p.m.: She arrives home to find that her three kids are fighting, their cat Quentin has vomited on the rug, and that her husband has forgotten it’s his night to plan dinner.

“I give him one thing to do,” she sighs. “Am I the only one who thinks that families need to eat to survive? You didn’t need to go to medical school to learn that.”

She picks up her phone and dials the local Mexican restaurant, which delivers.

While waiting, she and her husband reflect upon their key wins and challenges and prepare for the adventures of the next day.

“Just kidding. We’re just trying to survive here.”

7:00 p.m.: Take-out burritos for everyone.

“It’s only the third time this week,” she says, defensively.

(It’s Thursday.)

7:30–9:30 p.m.: Gormley and husband Jack help all three of their children with homework, then Gormley starts laying out their kids’ clothes for the next day.

“If Phoebe says one thing about the clothes I put out for her, there might be Armageddon,” she says.

9:30 p.m.: As she’s washing up for bed, she remembers that she forgot to call the exterminator, and adds it to tomorrow’s to-do list.

“Ants aren’t so bad,” she rationalizes.

With thanks to Carolyn Frank Sax, MD, who really did have a cat named Quentin.

13 Responses to “A Day in the Life of the Academic Assistant Professor of Medicine Who Wakes Up at 5:30 a.m. to Get Her Kids to School, Takes the Bus to Work, Answers Emails, Completes Online Required Modules, and Fills Out Disability Forms for Her Patients”

  1. Libby Hohmann says:

    A study in Mayo Clinic Proceedings last week shows that she likely spent 100 more minutes per day than her husband attending to the home and children. Check it out! I can only read MCP because it comes free to my home, my kids are all young adults out on their own now, and I have a couple more months before I need to complete my next set of on line training modules!

  2. Max says:

    Yes, doctor super proficient is headed towards being Dr grumpy, who usually precess the appearance of Dr burnout.
    If this was my patient there would be (preventative) family therapy soon.

  3. Dawn says:

    Ah yes! The infamous learning objectives. They are so med schools can use them for curriculum mapping, so that when the LCME requests the curriculum maps, they can be properly filed wherever such things go to be looked at by no one, ever.

  4. Loretta S says:

    Brilliant, Paul! Loved it. However, I am now quite grouchy, having made the mistake of clicking on that article in Business Insider. “Peculiar” does not begin to describe the article and the… PHOTOS, showing lots of leg… The photo with the caption about empowering women in Papua New Guinea was the most ludicrous and the most surreal. Is this an Onion spoof of a Business Insider article that accidentally wound up on the BI website?

    P.S. If anyone placed that bottle of green goo in front of me and told me it was breakfast, I wouldn’t know whether to laugh or merely avert my eyes to suppress my disgust.

  5. Cathy Corman says:

    Map of day will hold true for most any married, ambitious, professional working woman with children. Deep sigh. Worse for anyone trying to hold down multiple jobs or multiple aspects of a single job. A young friend shared the following with me, which I found funny and helpful:




  6. Julia Charles says:

    Funny and … not funny (a bit too close a description of my life for comfort). The icing on the cake recently was the email from hospital administration acknowledging burnout and inviting faculty to take advantage of the opportunity to arrange a lunch or dinner out with colleagues on the hospital’s dime to promote community and reduce burnout. I can’t even manage a meal with my husband.

  7. tom benzoni says:

    Learning objectives
    Really no such thing, and no need to map curricula.
    Just use coding software, return ICD 10 codes, hand the printout to the review committee.
    Let them figure out that we’re teaching medicine.

  8. liz rantz, MD says:

    I’m a senior person who survived this nightmare, divorced, 4 kids. 2 take homes: 1) the amount of time she spent on the computer. I appreciate the electronic virtues, but that is just too much. 2) having now retired, I realize that I spent the 25 years of that part of life taking care of people and not myself. I did not develop hobbies, a second interest to parlay into retirement fun. So I keep working! Do better by yourselves.

  9. Jon Blum says:

    Too close to home!

    That profile of the too-perfect executive is, well, too perfect. It’s an ineptly-written infomercial, which explains a lot. Not quite “Impossible is Nothing,” but it’s on the way. You’ve written a fine spoof of a fake. A spake? A foof?

    Here in Silicon Valley, we are used to such puffery from corporate self-promoters. A recent announcement of a new program from a well-known academic hospital (about 3000 miles east of here) consisted of an unintentionally hilarious string of high-tech buzzwords. I hope there is more too it than “Melania Edwards.”

  10. Radha says:

    This rings disturbingly true to my situation -down to the ant problem (ant poison works, but not safe if toddlers are around who might think it’s honey).

    So how do we fix this? My mode of survival is to uni-task. When I’m with the kids, I’m not checking email. And when I’m at work, I’m not scrolling through photos of the family. At the very least, I am present. But it sounds like if this is what everyone is going through, something larger needs to change.

  11. Val says:

    Paul’s parody is so spot on (down to ‘greetings for the day’). But minus our ever increasing requirement to engage so
    Much with electronics – email and inboxes (ie, if we could capitalize perhaps on some AI or something to minimize that constant electronic time suck more for us), our young doctor’s life is so filled with riches – serving patients, raising children, training a ?willing husband to strive to be an equal contributor, teaching the next generation. I think a lot of young people would read the two profiles and skip the green tea and yoga and instead favor this woman’s meaningful existence – bus sprints and all.

  12. Joel Gallant says:

    Learning objectives: an absurdity on either end! If you’re the speaker, it’s a meaningless chore, with deadlines and required terminology, all to create a document that will be read by no one except CME police. If you’re in the audience, you’ll be asked whether the objectives were met, a question that assumes you know what the objectives were and you care. Ask me whether I learned something useful. Ask me whether I was interested and entertained. But please don’t ask me about objectives!

    In my CME days, here’s the standard list of objectives I would have liked to submit:

    By the end of this presentation, participants will:

    1. learn some things they didn’t already know
    2. remember a few of those things
    3. make use of at least one of those things later
    5. stay awake throughout the presentation
    4. glance at electronic devices no more than once every 10 minutes
    5. laugh at least once every 5 minutes

HIV Information: Author Paul Sax, M.D.

Paul E. Sax, MD

Contributing Editor

NEJM Journal Watch
Infectious Diseases

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