As a young student, Dr Sarah Arachchi was drawn to medicine because she loves working with people and wanted to help make a change in the community.
“You can't do medicine unless you are passionate about giving back,” says Dr Sarah. “I always had that drive and whenI studied medicine at university and made friends I felt like, ‘Yes, I've finally met my people.' I felt part of a community. Today I’m part of the paediatric community and I’m also involved with a Facebook group called Melbourne Medical Mums and Mums to Be (And Dads and Dads to Be) I feel like I can relate really well to other medical moms and parents. We go through similar struggles trying to balance our work and career choice with looking after the kids.”
Parenting and the curse of perfectionism
As a mother to two young boys herself, Dr Sarah is grateful she works in paediatrics which she says is very understanding towards Mums.
“Working full time and having a child is hard, really hard,” she says. “It's that whole sense of balance. Now I have two kids so I've chosen for the moment to work part-time. Kids grow up so quickly and I don’t want to miss out on such a special time. One day they'll be going to school five days a week and hanging out with their friends and you won't get to see them and you can’t get that time back.”
“Medical parents need to remind themselves that it’s not a race. I work with some consultants and mentors who have achieved so many amazing things and they show me pictures of their 20-something year old kids and I think, ‘Wow, how did you do all that and still raise kids?’ But if you speak to any of them, they'll say that there was a period of time when their children were babies, where they spent time at home or took some time off.”
“A paediatrician told me recently that I shouldn't feel bad about staying at home with my kids because raising children is such an important job. ‘Your kids will contribute to society one day,’ they told me, ‘so what you're doing at home is just as important as what you do at the hospital."
Dr Sarah has an issue with how doctors are perceived in society.
“Sometimes it feels like we’re meant to be superhuman,” she says. “That perception has built up over a long time and we need to challenge that perception. We're not perfect, we're human beings and we make mistakes. I’ve seen colleagues suffer from burnout because of that constant striving for perfectionism. You don't have to be perfect. You don't always have to be in control, particularly when you've got other responsibilities in your life as well.”
“After I became a mom, I became much more empathetic towards mums, families and children. When you’ve been through it yourself, you just get it and parents can sense your empathy. You just have todo your best and care for the patients as best you can and hope that they see how much it means to you.”
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Doctors are typically Type A personalities who feel they need to do everything and do it perfectly says Dr Sarah.
“As a Mum you have to accept that’s not always possible. Sometimes your house is going to be a bit messier than you might like and you can’t beat yourself up about that. It's hard because we hold ourselves to a certain set of ideals and when we don't meet our high standards we can become disheartened.
“Remind yourself that you’re not perfect and look for support in your local community or online in the Medical Moms group on Facebook. I draw a lot of strength from my Facebook family knowing that other people are going through exactly what I'm going through. Some people try and do it all alone. It’s not a good idea. Reach out, get the support you need and don’t be afraid to ask for help. I don’t necessarily follow my own advice all the time, but like every other parent I’m learning as I go. “
“Don’t feel guilty about asking for help because taking care of yourself is just as important or if not more important, because if you’re in a good place then you’re able to take better care of your children and other people around you. It’s like that famous quote says: ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’”
“I still have a passion for medicine and making a difference but your attitude to the profession changes with time. I remember going through the hospital system, feeling overworked and under stress studying for exams.”
“At times you get the feeling as a doctor that maybe society doesn't necessarily appreciate you as much as you wish that they would. It's not as rosy as it seems, and you have to find your own happiness in the field that you choose. But going to work, being around patients, talking to families and children, is something I’ve always been passionate about. It's the other stuff that gets to you, like when you're trying to do something for a patient and you can't do it for X, Y, or Z reasons beyond your control. That is irritating”
“We all go through different challenges in life, right? It’s the same with medicine. You have to come back to the reasons why you chose the profession in the first place. And if what you're doing at the moment isn’t working for you, there are other pathways that might make you happy.”