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How do you know that you have become an adult?
I remember exactly when I became an adult. I was nearing the end of my training as a pediatric hematologist-oncologist and neuro-oncologist. It was the culmination of nearly 20 years of formal education (BA, MD, PhD) and clinical training (3 years pediatrics residency and 4 years of oncology fellowship). I had had terrible grades in college, but had found my focus and calling in the 3 gap years I took, and had managed to work my way from a clearly blue-collar state medical school to a fellowship at the most prestigious children’s hospitals in Boston.
I had been offered a staff position as a pediatric brain tumor specialist, I had grant money to support my research, and had not just achieved everything that I wanted, but I had exceeded my every dream. I was doing the one thing I loved doing more than anything else in the world: caring for the sickest possible children. And I was working more than 80 hours a week without a complaint. over 20 hours a week in the clinic, and 60 hours a week in the lab. My wife and I had, for years, decided that we’d focus on our careers and that kids were not in our future.
However, about a year or so before I completed my training, for reasons that are too personal to discuss here, we decided to adopt a child. We went through 10 months of paperwork, social work visits, endless hours moonlighting to pay for the adoption (remember, I was still in my fellowship training), and all of the risks inherent in an international adoption.
Midway through the process, it dawned on me that my current 80-plus hours a week, including nights spent on-call in the hospital, would mean that this child that we were trying to adopt, would be one that would play second fiddle to my academic career. There was no way that I could square the circle that I was in. How could I give my patients the type of care that I wanted, and be the type of father that I wanted to be? How could I avoid making the mistake that my father (mostly estranged), a pediatrician himself, made — that of putting your career first?
So, with far less anxiety than I anticipated, and not a single reservation 6 years since, I left academic medicine, and stopped seeing patients. I made a 90-degree turn with my career and turned myself into a cancer drug developer. I work on problems just as hard as those when I was seeing patients, but now my in-office work hours are 8-5. My weekends are (mostly) free to spend with my family, and my wife, daughter and I sit down to dinner every night as a family.
My daughter expects my presence, not my absence, and is genuinely disappointed when I have to travel (as opposed to my being resigned and used to my father’s endless nights on call). She and I not only make time, but have the time, to do innumerable father-daughter things: long walks, hikes in the mountains, movies, reading books, traveling together, playing games, doing science projects.
And while there are times that I truly miss being “Dr. Blackman,” I wouldn’t give up a single moment of being able to hear my daughter call me “Daddy.”
So, as far as I’m concerned, I became an adult the moment that I gave up — without reservation — the thing that I worked the hardest for in my life, and the thing that I self-identified with more strongly than anything else — so that my daughter could have the benefit of a father who put her first.
Sam Blackman is a father, husband, pediatric oncologist, cancer drug developer. Read more from Quora below:
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