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Dr. Mom & Dad

Books and triathlons

Drs. Jennifer Shu and Alex Kallen
Jackson, born February 2001

At the time the interview below was conducted, Jennifer Shu was an instructor in pediatrics at DHMC and Alex Kallen, an infectious disease specialist, was completing his M.P.H. and a fellowship in outcomes research at Dartmouth's Center for the Evaluative Clinical Sciences. After Kallen's graduation, they moved to Atlanta, where he is working in the Epidemic Intelligence Service at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shu—who is also the coauthor of Heading Home with Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2005) and the editor of American Academy of Pediatrics: Baby and Child Health (DK Publishing 2004)—is currently working on another book about parenting.

What is it like being both a parent and a pediatrician, Jennifer? Does that make it easier to relate to patients' concerns?
Jennifer: I am constantly learning on a daily basis on both ends—learning things at home that help me better advise my patients and vice versa. It absolutely makes it easier to relate to my patients' concerns to be a parent myself. I try not to over share and do so only if it seems relevant. But sometimes just knowing that physicians deal with problems, too, helps patients not to feel so alone in their concerns.

How did you get into writing?
Jennifer: I've always been interested in talking to as many people as possible. Working one-on-one with patients is great. But giving classes or having group meetings with patients allows you to reach more people at once. And with a book you reach even more. I took a couple of years off after we had our son. We were in Denver, and someone I had trained with in San Francisco was there, too. We looked at the parenting literature and saw a lot of books for medical audiences by doctors and a lot of readable books by nondoctors. We wanted to come up with a user-friendly book on parenting that was also really sound.

"Try to figure out your priorities for career and family and reassess them every year or two so you can stay on track and redirect quickly. If your priorities change . . . make sure your job responsibilities change as well."

I understand you do Ironman triathlons, Alex. How do you find the time to train? And do you ever train with your son?
Alex: I get up very early in the morning. I'm lucky to have a wife who helps with child care, because training for an Ironman is like another job. At peak, it can be 25 hours a week. My son likes to ride his bike and loves to run on the track over at Lebanon High School.
Jennifer: It would slow Alex down too much to take him on Ironman training.
Alex: He would get bored!

What is your favorite memory of being a parent and a physician?
Alex: I'm not sure if it's my favorite memory, but it was certainly memorable. I was working at the University of Colorado. Jen was having a c-section in the operating room upstairs, and I was running up and down from the OR to see patients in the clinic because my pager kept going off.

What words of advice do you have for young M.D.'s planning to have a family?
Alex: It is easy to get caught up in the rat race of clinic, so it's important to remember that you have flexibility and you have a choice as long as you're willing to make it. It's absolutely key to make time to spend with your family.
Jennifer: Try to figure out your priorities for career and family and reassess them every year or two so you can stay on track and redirect quickly. Don't stay in a situation that doesn't create an ideal balance for you. Staying with the status quo may be easier, but if your priorities change once you start your family, make sure your job responsibilities change as well. I was really surprised that I wanted to be with Jackson so much after he was born. But if you leave practice for any period, it's important to maintain your board certification and medical license so you can return to practice quickly.

Do you feel there's an optimal time for physicians to have children?
Jennifer: The sooner the better, so you have longer to enjoy them! But on the flip side, better late than never. Seriously, there's no perfect time—so when it happens, embrace parenthood.

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