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, Dr. Deeter, a 41-year-old pediatric intensive care physician, will go home to her own children -- and try not to be a hypersensitive mom. "My job makes me very aware that anything can happen," she said. "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," said Dr. Deeter, who is part of a nine-doctor team with Pediatric Critical Care of South 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, Dr. 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."
Support at home is essential. So are the right workplace partnerships or teams who share responsibilities and support motherhood.
Setting up a system that works can take some trial and error -- and staying power.
Lynn Meister, 52, worked full days and many nights as a pediatric hematologist/oncologist while raising two children, now in their 20s. She says she relied heavily on her husband for help at home and never once felt the personal sacrifices outweighed the rewards.
For years Dr. Meister would get asked, " 'As a mother, how can you do that kind of work? Doesn't it make you afraid?' But I wasn't afraid. I always felt like I had so much to offer because I am a mother."
She, too, experienced a parent's medical nightmare when her then-12-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor. That daughter now is an eight-year cancer survivor. Dr. Meister says the experience made the balancing act that much more important to her and led her to become an even better doctor.
Yet she says her biggest battle was with imperfection, a common struggle among working mothers. "I felt like I never was doing quite as good a job as I could as a doctor or mother."
Today, she encourages other women to stick with medicine. "My son and daughter are fine adults, and if I can cure a child of cancer, what can be better than that?"
Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org