I’m going to summer camp!

I know, I know.  You’re thinking, “But Amalia, you’re an academic surgeon.  You’re an adult.  You’re going to…summer camp?”

Yes.  Yes I am.  And that stuff you are thinking about me being a responsible grown-up is exactly why I’m going to camp.

Those who know me well on a personal level know that I like adventures of the big and small variety.  You also know that while I am absolutely passionate about my career I have always believed it is important to have more dimensions than a plate.  Or, as I sometimes explain it to my mentees, “While you are in training, you’ll have lots of things pulling at you.  Pick just one thing that you are absolutely passionate about and make sure that you hang on to that, no matter what.”  For me during med school and residency, I chose singing in church choir as the one immovable.  Other things remained important as well- reading literary fiction, cooking when I had time, running/ cycling- but choir was simply that time during the week when I mostly got a reprieve from being a medical student or resident, and I valued that respite.

I am increasingly seeing discussions in various venues about making time for your passions, having “recess” as part of your day, and our overall need for play as part of our lives- even as adults.  I’ve been familiar with Stuart Brown’s great work on play for several years.  Sure, it’s important for us as children, but it may be no less important for us as adults.  It helps us stay healthier overall, it helps us be more creative- and ultimately, play does make us happy.  It seems so simple.

But we get busy, and life gets busy.  Deadlines, promises, demands.

When is the last time that you paused to play?

What were things that your younger self really loved doing?  Drawing pictures?  Running?  Roller skating?  Watercolors?  Creating new dishes in the kitchen?  Puddle jumping after rainstorms?

Why can’t you declare a recess to do them?

What if you blocked out some time- even as little as 5 minutes- to doodle, to write a poem, to go on a walk around the block looking for all of the yellow things you can find?  What would that look like?  What would it do for you?

And now that you’re curious, why aren’t you doing one of those things?  While I love having you here reading my blog, I would love even more for you to go have a dance party in the living room.

Then get back to those responsibilities.


(For those wondering about my summer camp plans, I’m going to Cowgirl Yoga camp in Montana for 4 days.  And I found out today from my Mom that my birthday present this year is a trip to Brave Girl Camp in Idaho.  Because camp is awesome, even in your 40s.)




Reflecting on the year’s end


It’s that time of year when resolutions are omnipresent.  We make lists of things we’re going to do or things that we’re going to stop doing.  We air our dirty laundry about our imperfections and we swear that we’re going to run every day or lose those 20 pounds or get rid of our consumer debt- all admirable things, but all also ambitious things that you really have to be in a certain mental and physical space to make happen; I’m particularly attuned to that after cleaning up my financial self and losing 30-ish pounds last year.

The net result of resolutions is that we feel bad about ourselves in order to make them, and we feel bad about ourselves when we fail to keep them.  Yes, I’m one of those people who considers resolutions a set-up for failure and as a way that we reinforce those qualities we like least in ourselves.

I’m not against personal growth, and I definitely support trying to be the best version of ourselves.  What I’ve found more vital for me has been to spend a few minutes at year’s end reflecting on what’s been amazing and wonderful, what could have been more amazing and wonderful, and how I want to move those concepts into my next year.  In short, it’s time to take stock of where I’ve been and where I want to be next.

So, looking at 2013, what was amazing and wonderful?

  • Watching a mentee- who I mentored through her entire residency- finish her fellowship and get her first “big girl” job as a faculty surgeon.  Helping her with that transition.  Sending her all of my shoes when I gave up heels.
  • Travel to new places:  Puerto Rico in January was blissful for many reasons.  Finland in August was a rich immersion in a completely different culture. I now want a sauna house and a lake out back of my house!
  • Graduation of our first class of medical students who came through the “new” curriculum.  They seem to be thriving in spite of because of our innovations.
  • Walking in two Komen 3-Day events (Chicago and rainy, rainy DC) surrounded by dear friends.
  • Having a double-digit peer-reviewed publication year (in spite of my 50% education FTE!).
  • Making a little cross-country road trip with my Mom in September from Alabama to Utah, all in the name of rescuing a Siberian Husky.  She was worth every single mile.
  • Being part of the AAMC Women’s Mid-Career Professional Development Course.  I learned quite a bit about myself and about leadership.  Most importantly, I made some amazing new connections who I’m looking forward to a future with in academic medicine.

What was less amazing and wonderful this year?

  • Salt Lake’s wintertime air quality.  I’ve gone to referring to it as the “glop.”  It’s disgusting.
  • My role as a “track director” for our 4th year students.  My track is basically surgical potpourri and I don’t get a ton of help from the subspecialists.  I also struggle with how to prepare neurosurgeons and orthopedists for internship since I am neither of those things.
  • Losing my beloved Kita-dog to her old age, arthritis, and kidneys in August.  My heart broke wide open.
  • Having weeks when I was convinced that my primary purpose at work was to be a palliative care physician.  Don’t get me wrong- I really respect what our palliative care colleagues do, and as someone who works in the ICU I know it’s part of the job.  There are just those times that it becomes emotionally draining, and I had a couple of runs like that this year.
  • My constant efforts to put 10 pounds of sugar into a 5 pound sack.  Or to get 32 hours of work into a 24 hour day.  Regardless, my constant efforts to achieve that which isn’t completely reasonable realistic.  The biggest manifestation of this is my near-constant wish to be more generous with my time for my friends.

What’s next?

  • 2014 travel adventures:  Rafting the Middle Fork of the Salmon in June.  A Komen 3-Day in Twin Cities in August, including a birthday celebration for one of my beloved friends.  Maybe, possibly Australia in October?  We’ll see.
  • Refine the surgery clerkship that I completely burnt down in 2012.  It’s not perfect (yet) but it’s getting better all of the time.
  • Connection.  Details to be established, but for me I do know it’s both personal and professional.
  • Capitalize on my knowledge and experiences from the Mid-WIMS course so that it works for me and those around me.
  • Regularly take time off from work. Completely off, including research and administration.  Stop laughing and be supportive, will you?
  • Put together the best surgical potpourri “bootcamp” for April that I can with what I have. I’m letting go of perfect for this one, then reassessing what it really needs.

No resolutions.  Some dreams, some callings, but absolutely nothing to feel bad about here (well, other than maybe the bit about taking time off…I’ll get back to you on that in 52 weeks or so).

Happy New Year, and thanks for joining me on this journey.