For Kristina Deeter, a hard day at work could include resuscitating a toddler who nearly drowned, adjusting medication for a child who is struggling to tolerate a new heart or setting up a premature baby on life support.
Then, after an intense 12-hour shift, Deeter, a 41-year-old pediatric intensive care physician, will go home to her own children — and try not to be a hyper-sensitive mom. “My job makes me very aware that anything can happen,” she says. “I think that makes my relationships with my own kids more special.”
Many working parents — and mothers in particular — tread a delicate line between demanding careers and the needs of family. But for mothers in medicine, the stakes are particularly high.
“It’s a critical job and I can’t just run out the door if something happens at home,” says Deeter who is part of an 9-doctor team with Pediatric Critical Care of South Florida, which operates the pediatric intensive care unit at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood and North Naples Hospital in Southwest Florida. “I say I’m sorry to my kids and husband a lot. But when it’s really important, I’m there.”
To help her children understand why she works such long hours, Deeter has introduced her children to patients and even brought them with her to bereavement ceremonies.. “I don’t want them damaged by my job, but I do want them to have that compassion to help others.’’
As women have come up the ranks in the male-dominated field of medicine, they have changed the practice, taken a more nurturing approach to interacting with patients and families and made it more acceptable to openly talk about challenges of many years of schooling, training, a high-stress environment, long and unpredictable hours — and motherhood. Today, nearly 13 percent of physicians are female, compared with about 8 percent a decade ago, according to the American Medical Association.
Toba Niazi, 34, is the rarest of women in medicine: a neurosurgeon. Only 200 — about 7 percent of the nation’s roughly 3,300 board-certified neurosurgeons — are female. On a given day, Niazi might meticulously remove a tumor from a child’s brain or skillfully repair a baby’s spinal cord. She operates as part of the three-person department at Miami Children’s Hospital and serves as a voluntary faculty member at the University of Miami, which means she sees children who are pediatric neurology patients at Jackson Memorial Hospital.
Niazi also is the mother of a 2-year-old and an 8-month-old. Pregnancy was difficult. She spent eight to 10 hours at a time on her feet in the operating room — without a bathroom break. Of course, motherhood is a challenge, too. “It’s hard to leave your 2-year-old when you’re going to work and say, ‘I’ll see you in 12 or 16 hours,’ especially when you leave them with a caretaker that is not family,” she says.
After long emotional days at work, Niazi says she wants to be the one to tuck her tots into bed at night. That doesn’t always happen.
Like many doctor moms, Niazi’s husband also is a physician, a stroke neurologist at Baptist Health South Florida. A full-time nanny cares for the kids during the day, but dad’s schedule allows him to be the parent at home at night when his wife is on call or works late. “He gets what I deal with and understands when I have a sick child I have to take care of and can’t come home,” Niazi explains. “I don’t think anyone else would tolerate it.”