One of the perks of working for a university is that I get, like a regular ol’ student, a nice long winter break. I was off work for more than two weeks in late December and early January, and I used the time wisely (if I do say so myself) – by working out a lot, playing lots of games and doing lots of crafts with my young daughters, cleaning out my ridiculously packed garage, and even settling down with a 278-page book I had found the time to check out from my local library. The title (a rather ironic one given that I felt, during those glorious days off, as if I had all the time in the world)? Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time.
The book was penned by journalist Brigid Schulte and published last March, and I quite enjoyed reading Schulte’s take on, and the science behind, the work-life demands of hard-working professionals (especially ones with kids) and “our addiction to the daily grind.” And while many of her stories – like how she once stopped doing housework in favor of eating soup and watching the rain with her kids – resonated with me personally (ah, the importance of slowing down and savoring life’s little pleasures!), I was also happy to see a shout-out to my place of work.
In a section on workplaces that have been remade to help their employees both “work and live well,” Schulte described how Stanford’s medical school is:
seeking to ‘rewire’ [the beliefs that success in academic medicine only comes from working 24/7] by changing the narrative of success. They have ambitious plans to remake their culture, to provide career counseling and multiple paths to success at various speeds. And they’re starting by showcasing a different kind of role model, in prominent displays along corridors and on the university website, focusing on those who have achieved excellence at work and have a rich life outside of it.
Schulte briefly discussed the work of Hannah Valantine, MD, former senior associate dean for leadership and diversity and now the first chief officer for scientific workforce diversity at NIH, who alongside Stanford colleagues had been working to change the workplace culture in academic medicine. Valantine and pediatrician Christy Sandborg, MD, co-created a pilot program called Academic Biomedical Career Customization (ABCC) in an effort to help faculty achieve balance; the program, which ran from 2012-14 and is described in an excellent 2013 article from the Clayman Institute for Gender Research, encouraged “faculty to address work-life issues by varying their workloads and responsibilities over the course of their careers” and included “a ‘time banking’ system, where faculty earn credits they can cash in for help with certain tasks at work or at home.”
Schulte quoted Valantine as saying, “We decided to include the housework benefits, because when [molecular biologist] Carol Greider got the news that she’d won the Nobel Prize in Medicine, she was doing the laundry.”
While grant funding for the ABCC program ended last year, folks at the Office of Faculty Development and Diversity told me that Stanford is applying the lessons and successes of the program into new work-life and work-flexibility initiatives throughout the School of Medicine.
Previously: Program for residents reflects “massive change” in surgeon mentality, NIH selects Hannah Valantine as first chief officer for scientific workforce diversity, Amplifying the physician-mother voice and Hannah Valantine: Leading the way in diversifying medicine
Photo by Michael Tam