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Global Pandemics and Work Life Balance: A Physician's View

By: Jessica Martin, SDSU Chapter Member

As we all know, pursuing a career in STEM is no easy feat and it isn’t hard to feel overwhelmed, drained or as if we have no time remaining for ourselves. Despite this, there are so many women in STEM who thrive in their positions, so we decided to reach out to get some inside information. Dr. Maria Sturchler, an ER Doctor finishing her residency and the Treasurer for the WSS Board of Directors, gave us some insight on her personal experience on what it is like working in a hospital during a global pandemic and finding a work-life balance. As a physician, Dr. Sturchler says that it has been “encouraging to see the community to come together and follow stay at home orders”, however she finds the amount of misinformation being distributed about the virus to be alarming. Make sure that when obtaining information about the pandemic you are accessing it from a reliable source. She also noted that San Diego, where she lives, hasn’t been hit too hard by the pandemic yet due to the fact that California’s governor is taking aggressive action to stop the spread. Even then, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Most of the anxieties that Dr. Sturchler is currently facing are related to lack of PPE (personal protective equipment) and the constantly changing workflow in the hospital that comes with new updates. Although she faces some anxieties, she “cannot even begin to imagine what it is like for physicians and healthcare workers in the hardest hit areas”.

Dr. Sturchler feels as though she is able to maintain a healthy work-life balance because she views self-care as a cornerstone of her success. As a woman in the health field, she has always made sure to incorporate a balanced diet and 3-4+ days of exercise per week, which has helped her create boundaries between her work and personal time. She has also found that as her career progresses, she gets better at finding time to do non-work related things. She emphasized taking the time to find what truly makes you happy, because not everyone will be fulfilled by the same activities. You must find what refreshes you and rejuvenates your spirit rather than things that you think you should be doing, but are actually a waste of your time. The biggest advice that Dr. Sturchler has for maintaining a good work-life balance is to make a routine and avoid wasting time. While it can be easy to slip into binge watching a show on Netflix or sleeping in until noon, those are not the best ways to maximize your time. By creating a solid routine that emphasizes things that take more effort to complete during “high-energy” parts of your day and activities that you are more easily motivated to do or interested in doing during “low-energy” parts of your day. By slotting both activities that you need to get done and those that energize you into your day, you can make sure that you are productive while also feeling good about yourself. Lastly, make sure to not waste time on toxic relationships, no one has the time or energy for them and you deserve better! Luckily, Dr. Sturchler has never felt as though there was a time in her life when she had to make a choice to either pursue her career or a family. Despite this, she did identify that it can be challenging to choose a “good time” to start a family as a woman in STEM. There can be times where pregnancy seems too difficult, such as intern year of residency and times when an opportunity arises to further your career that push you into a long-distance relationship with your partner- some women simply decide to pursue a family on their own because of this. The most important thing is to not isolate yourself, everyone deals with the same family planning struggle! Open up to trusted mentors and advisors to discuss any concerns you have, because simply “waiting it out” is an unhelpful and difficult way to manage your concerns.

Currently, Dr. Sturchler is starting her own family. Someone once told her that “you can have it all, just not at once”, and she has found this to be true throughout her pregnancy. Although she has had to cut back on some activities that she loves, she was able to stay active and worked through most of her pregnancy in her Trauma and ICU rotations, sometimes even staying in the hospital for 30 hours straight! Although Dr. Sturchler believes that she waited a bit too long to get serious about getting pregnant and had to go through in vitro fertilization during her residency, everything ended up working out and her baby was born happy and healthy this month! It is also worth noting that Dr. Sturchler will be starting her fellowship training in July in the UC San Diego/Scripps Hospice and Palliative Care department, so even throughout her pregnancy she has continued to advance her career. Dr. Sturchler’s story really goes to show that you CAN have it all with the right support system and attitude.


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