Plan a Life Not Just a Living

For as long as I can remember,  I know I have always wanted to be a doctor.

When I was in high school, I met  a family friend  who is an anesthesiologist. She is kind, warm, compassionate.  She attended to me when I had my first minor surgery before entering college.  She is  partly practicing and partly holding an administrative position. She was simple, pretty and elegant.

Mostly I was attracted to her demeanor. Warm, soft spoken but firm at the same time. She reassured me while going through the procedure. She seem to like what she is doing. She has a family  and spends a good amount of time with them.  I sensed a great mix of work and family life. I kept that in my mind through the years.

I want a life like that ,I told my young self.

I have kept that image  of  work life balance in my mind. Many years forward, I am a physician and had opportunities to do administrative and training work in my hospital.

Have I done it?  The balance?  I must admit not all the time.  But I found a good means to  find my way back  when it tips  off to one side.

I would like to teach you how.

Let me share  one story with you.   In one training session, I met Dr. A. She is a young fellow in her last year of training. We had an activity where they were asked to create images of their desired future.

How would life be 5 to 10 years from now?

How would each day of waking up look like?

Where am I ?

Who am I with?

What is my work place like?

How is my weekend?

Do I have a family? How are we?

Many questions. The answer to which had to be placed on a board with the most colorful and representative pictures we could find.

Then it was time to share. As she was called, I noticed she was teary eyed. The exercise was a revelation to her. Looking at her board, she saw that her ideal life was way off with the lifestyle of her chosen field. She wanted a predictable day time job that would allow her to do other things. No night calls. No emergencies.

She cried. I can sense regret and sadness.  She is on her last few days of training . Then I told her, “you know, your practice  can be as you define and design it”. She couldn’t get back the years she spent training for her field but she can practice in a way that could fit her desired ideal life.

I see her around these days. She is happy. Her practice is mostly ambulatory. She trained further in a subspecialty that makes it more of a day job. This field does not require night calls and is seldom an emergency.

Create your vision of life and work.  Keep it where you can see it. Make it a reminder to yourself each day you wake up.

.Why plan a practice when you can plan a life?

What’s your plan? Share yours.

Photo by Free from Pexels

Step Back, Look Forward


3 days, 1 place and 1 friend. And all the time in the world to slow down and step back. I call it my annual retreat. Not your typical reclusive , no talk type though. The most difficult part of doing this is commiting to the days that it should happen. Somehow it keeps on getting pushed back. There is always something that seems to be more important . I even needed someone to pin me down to do it.

Why do it in the first place?
If there are times you feel that you have too much on your plate and need to sort things out…
If you feel there is more that you can do, but can’t seem to find the starting point….
If you want to look into your varied roles and figure out how they align….
When you are about to take a big leap and you need to see the big picture …
When life gives you a second chance and you need to set things right….
When you are about to start a new phase and you want to set your sight on where the next chapter can take you…

Stepping back gives you that chance to look forward.

Here’s how to ” step back,look forward” my style:
1. Get a real big push to commit your days to do this (this seem to be the hardest step for me!).
2. Call a friend to be with you. Choosing the right friend is crucial. Someone who can listen when you think out loud. You don’t need answers when you do this. You just need someone to hear you out ( so you don’t look crazy talking all by yourself! Lol!) Talking out loud what’s going on in your mind may trigger further insights. My friend J is perfect !
3. Find a place that offers less distractions. Food should be readily available when you get hungry. Television or internet preferably not available.
4. Set your goal. Mine was to set my direction for the next 3 to 5 years. For some, it can be a long pressing question that needs a careful thought.
5. Write an exhaustive list of questions you want answered in relation to your set goal. Examples from my list includes:
At what age do I want to retire? What else do I like to do other than what I am doing now? What do others say I am good at? Who do I want to be with more often? How much do I need to keep the life I have now? What else do I need to provide for my family? Your list can be different but consider all aspects of your goal.
6. Ask what’s in it for you if your set goal is met. A stress free lifestyle perhaps. Happiness in pursuing a passion. More time with family. Financial rewards. List it down too! Doing this will excite you to pursue it relentlessly.
7. On the other hand, what can go wrong if you pursue your set goal? List it all down too. Don’t mince on this one. The more you think about this, the more you will be able to prepare for hurdles and challenges.
8. Identify things you can do now to set the ball rolling. How about those that you can do in a month? Within the next 3 to 6 months? Set the timeline based on the goal you have set.

Whoever you are, whatever you do, stepping back to do this is a good thing.

Residents or fellows who are about to end their training. Doctors on top of their career. Those experiencing a slump.

Here’s to making a life not just a living! Cheers!

Grow Up Doc!

young mdWhen I was in medical school, I already heard  what other people are saying. Doctors in training seem to be in an extended adolescence  stage. I don’t know if my Pediatric Adolescent  Specialist friends will agree.  Perhaps   it’s the confines of the medical world  that predisposes us to it. There is so much to do, to read,  to write, to attend to.  The world of a  medical trainee   revolves around books, patients, cases and more books, patients and cases!

Then suddenly out  of residency or fellowship into the REAL world.  The ADULT world.


To raise a family.  Make a living.  Don’t forget, make a LIFE other than being a doctor.  The loooooong years of studying medicine seem to make us forget  that we have “other lives. ”  Our gifts get buried that we need to rediscover ourselves.  No wonder why I went into making chocolates and pastries as well as dabbing on painting when I finished residency!


There’s more!  Whoever said just finish training  and they will come must  really be joking!  So, I had to plan my next move to get the practice going! Kailangan palang pag-isipan! Where are the patients? How do I get them to see me?  Hay! Dapat pala may big picture!


Then there’s the numerous documents—SSS, pag-ibig, philhealth, BIR, getting an OR  etc.  I admit these things really made me panic more than other things! Will I have to do it myself? If you know me, when it comes to matters like these—you can say I am like a princess.  Everything is done for  me by somebody else!


Here comes financial matters! FINANCE is a BIG word for me.


Even if I grew up with a dad who is an entrepreneur, nowhere was I in that area during my training years! All I know is that I get this amount  every month and I spend it. I don’t know how to open a bank account, write a check or go to an ATM. My best financial teacher  was a book I chanced  upon in a book sale store entitled “ The Wealthy Barber”. Thought Bubble:” If  the barber can be wealthy, maybe so can I!”  he! he! he!  The book turned out to be an engaging story  about a barber who knew personal finance and taught it to his customers during their monthly haircut visits.


Much of the learning came when I was thrown into the adult world and I needed to learn things with not much choice.  Fast forward so and so years, here are my insights:


  • Do not jump the gun on finding a clinic, getting a secretary  etc. in haste.  Think big picture first.  Remember you are making a life not just a living.


  • Do not bury your gifts! Continue to develop them.  Even if you have to do it one gift at a time . Take small steps so they don’t get buried to oblivion. Hey , I  sold a lot of chocolates after residency until I had to turn away from them to avoid eating too much !


  • It pays to learn about those regulatory stuff you need to practice.  Even if you will not do it yourself, you owe it to yourself to know about taxation, permits, certification etc.


  • Learn personal finance.  Do not get intimidated by the word and the figures. Read materials about it.  There are many online resources on this topic.  Remember the barber! If he can do it, so can you!


  • Raise up your plans in prayer.  Whoever is your God, He must be a generous God who will see you through!


Time to grow up doc , don’t you think so?




photo by jomphong/

What’s Your Elevator Pitch?

What's Your Elevator Pitch?

Remember in grade school when we were asked to  introduce ourselves in front of the class?


Imagine if you had to do the same in a gathering of potential patients. You have been asked about what you do and everyone is listening. What do you say?


We are used to being introduced with all the accompanying  letters that appears after our name or with the training institutions we went to.  We can’t bore people with those.


You need an elevator pitch.


An elevator pitch is handy  when situations lead to an opportunity to tell others  about what you do and its value.


It is  an elevator  pitch because it should be as short as an elevator ride. A good  1-3 sentences long  will do.  It should tell others how you can help. Use words that evoke a visual picture.  A good one creates a stir, gets talk going   and helps  them remember you. If you only have one line to tell people  about what you do, what would it be?


As for me, I help parents raise healthy and happy kids. I am a pediatrician.


Write yours in the comments below!


Create your elevator pitch.

Image: Gregory Szarkiewicz /

Where To From Here?

Road Ahead

Finally, I will have the luxury of sleep and long, relaxing showers!  This was my first happy thought after finishing residency.  A few more days into  it, things began to sink in.

So,  “where to from here”?


During training, it was  hard to think about  how things will be post –residency or fellowship. There are   calls to answer, patients to see ,  books to read  and cases to present.


I was in my last few days into finishing when a generous consultant gave a few tips on how  to get started. I was so grateful  and felt lucky that I have something to start with.  I told her, “it’s a good thing I am learning this now.” She told me  “you should have thought about all these on  day 1 of your training!”


Well, if the best time was years back, the next best time is now.


When the jolt of  being  “jobless” finally came, many questions started to crowd my now fully rested but almost dormant brain. I thought it was the end of the line. Okay, time to find a place, set up clinic, put up a signage and wait for patients to come.


But, if I were to be part of the hospital, shouldn’t I consider another two to three years of study?  Our department was growing and they needed a lot of subspecialists. We were prompted to go for further training. Should I take this option?


At the same time I was thinking, I have a son to raise. Maybe I should start to practice now.


I did applied for subspecialty but was lucky to snap out of it right in the middle of my interview. See my story.


When I finally decided to start, there were more questions. Where do I practice? What is the best time to hold clinic? How much do I need? As a I get one question answered, another one pops up. 


Wait! It can’t be this way. I seem to be doing a lot of things and yet I felt uncertain. Rather busy but uneasy about how things are going. I felt like I was just grabbing whatever comes my way.


I sat and got a piece of paper. I divided the paper into two: One column says LIKE, the other column says I DON’T LIKE. I started to scribble…I like to do other things other than seeing patients….I don’t like to hold clinic all day…I like  to have ME time…I like to work around my son’s schedule…I don’t like …etc. What seems like cobwebs hanging over my head started to clear up.


I realized that if I were to be happy doing this for the rest of my life, I have to really think about it.  And so I set out to plan.


“If you don’t have a plan for yourself, you’ll be part of someone else’s.” ß Didn’t want this to happen!


Set up your practice for success.  Take time to plan.

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