Not unlike most of my collegians in academia, I wear multiple hats: administrator, educator, clinician, and researcher. This variety means there is no typical day. However, I am the only Asian American woman Chair in psychiatry, and that makes me somewhat unique. I do have a weekly schedule, but my schedule is flexible other than the days I see patients and teach a class. Some days are spent solving nothing but administrative problems. I maintain an open-door policy, but it is still difficult for me to say no when a faculty member walks in to chat or discuss a problem. In this article, I will describe a day that is closest to a typical day.
I get up at 5:00 a.m., and I review my emails after a cup of coffee. Before I became a Chair, I usually spent about 30—40 minutes exercising. Now I am not spending as much time taking care of my health as I used to.
Around 7:00 a.m., I leave for work. I have a neuropsychiatric clinic at an affiliate VA Medical Center. I see outpatients twice weekly. On other days, I have a women’s neuropsychiatry clinic at the University.
When I reach my office, the assistant residency director comes to my office. He says I need to talk to a junior faculty member who is very upset with "the school." I am surprised because the above-mentioned faculty member is someone whom I like and admire, and I do not remember doing anything that would upset her. I do remember that the week before, this young faculty member appeared somewhat cool toward me. I ask the assistant residency director to contact the individual and ask her to come and talk with me.
Meanwhile, I need to see several patients and review their progress with some third-year medical students and a PGY-4 resident. I ask the resident to assign the patients to each of the medical students. While the students are reviewing their patients’ electronic files, I catch up with my electronic paperwork and emails. When the students finish seeing their patients with the resident, they present the patients to me. One of the students is well prepared and does an exceptional job, and the other does not seem to have taken the time to review his patient’s chart and has an attitude that conveys a general disdain for psychiatric patients. While controlling my urge to kick the student out of my clinic, I calmly explain again the need to review charts and care for psychiatric patients.
While I am talking to the patient, the junior faculty member who is upset with me shows up. I talk to her in between patients. She feels unappreciated and undervalued. On further probing, she reveals that her perception is based on a series of events where she felt excluded. I admit to her that although I could explain my actions, it was irrelevant and I am sorry that she interpreted my behavior as my not valuing her. She and I then discuss the ways I can express my appreciation of her. After she leaves, I see more patients and discuss the psychiatric manifestation of seizure disorder with the medical students and the resident, ignoring my frustration with the student disinterested in psychiatry.
After I finish my clinic, I have a lunch meeting with the mental health leader of our affiliate V.A. Medical Center, during which we discuss the above-mentioned attending and formulate strategies of faculty development, including preventing burnout and improving morale.
After I return to my office, I find out that the animal protocol that is needed to accompany my internal grant went to the wrong office and never went to the proper committee and the funds for my grant renewal were denied. With effort I manage an extension of my current funding for another year. Relieved that all is not lost, I ask my project coordinator to send the animal protocol to the right office so we can continue our research on exploratory behavior in rodents with premotor Parkinson’s disease.
Over the water cooler, I exchange experiences with some colleagues about a Liaison Committee for Medical Education (LCME) site visit that is taking place that week. The department medical student director asks if I could review a set of slides I gave him that he wants to use the next day. I spent the next 30 minutes commenting on the slides. I’m now a little nervous, as I have a presentation to a center for abused women which I still need to review and a paper to finish. But no time to consider these projects as I need to go to an after-LCME informational/celebratory event and have a meeting with the head of human resources after that. Since it is important for me to be at the post-LCME event, I put away my presentation and go to the gathering.
LCME visits apparently went well, everyone there is relieved and ready to socialize. I make some small talk with the University’s president and the dean. The human resources director interrupts and reminds me that I do need to see her. After that I come back to my office ready to work on my paper. After an hour or so, I am ready to go home.
It is 7:00 now, and my husband and I discuss dinner plans and decide on leftovers. After dinner I take the dog for a walk around the corner. It is now 8:00 p.m.; I sprawl in front of the TV and watch some mindless sitcom. Around 9 I answer my e-mails. At 10 I go upstairs to read a book but find myself falling asleep. Cursing myself for being so sleepy that I will miss Leno again, I put the book away, turn off the light, and the day has ended.
The day may not have been the most dramatic of my life, but it was typical, except for the others that are different. I feel satisfied. My job is not the easiest job in the world. Each aspect of it has its challenges. As a Chair, I am responsible for setting the direction and deciding the vision, but I am also an authority figure. People attribute meaning to my actions that I did not intend. I enjoy teaching psychiatry but must come to terms with the fact that most students will not share my passion for the field, and yet I must instill at least a part of that passion in them. I thrive on the intellectual nourishment that research and academic endeavors bring but understand that the demands on my time thwart my progress and make me feel inadequate. I also need to help and support members of my department, and sometimes it has to occur at the cost of my own needs. There are always competing priorities and a lot of juggling in this job, and I must constantly strive for a balance. There are days when I question my own decisions, worry about my race and gender interfering with my authority as Chair or doubt my effectiveness as a mentor to junior faculty, but not that particular day. I feel fortunate that for most of my days I believe I have accomplished what was expected of me and have contributed to my department, my university, and the field of psychiatry.
Dr. Vaidya is Professor and Chair, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, The Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, North Chicago, IL.