39: A Work-Life Integration Subspecialty Solution, with Dr. Paula Marfia

by Jen Barna MD | Life Journey, Podcast, Resilience, Work Life Balance

“As women, we’re told that we can have it all, but we still have to make a sacrifice. There may be a time when you’re sacrificing for your family and your career is on hold. But there’s always going to be that time to go back to your career. You can do it before, you can do it after, you can do it any way that works for you, you don’t have to be like anybody else. You don’t have to worry about what anyone else is doing.” -Dr. Paula Marfia 

In today’s episode, Dr. Jen Barna talks with Dr. Paula Marfia. You’ll get the real take on what it’s like to be a nocturnist, wife and mother. You’ll hear how Dr. Marfia makes it work and also get insight into being a nocturnist. It turns out that being a nocturnist is an amazing way to have your career and have time for family. That’s not to say that Dr. Marfia didn’t make sacrifices, because she did. Tune in to hear how she makes it all work. 

Dr. Marfia earned her Bachelor’s of Science in Biology from Bradley University. She earned her Master’s degree from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana in Food Science and Human Nutrition. She attended medical school at Saint Louis University, then transferred to Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine which is where she earned her MD. She completed her Internal Medicine residency at Loyola and she is on staff at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, IL. 

Excerpts from the show:


“Let’s dive right in. I’m curious to hear about your experience as a woman physician and a mom and how you made the choice to become a nocturnist.”


“Sure, I kind of always knew that I wanted to be a doctor. I had this idea of service to others and I just remember when I was a little kid I had trouble learning to read. I didn’t learn to read till I was in second grade and this idea of being smart really got to me. I felt like, when I went to the doctor, the doctor knew what was going on. They had the answers to everything. And so, that really appealed to me growing up. And then, at least I kind of learned what medicine was. As I found that I excelled in school, I thought that was the path for me. I liked the idea of getting some respect. What I found out is, medicine is a totally different world than what I thought it was going to be, especially being a mom. I only thought about being a doctor. I never thought that I was going to be a mom and get married. I’m not sure why I never thought about that, but I found myself in medical school and I found the love of my life, and so we got married and then it was just like, ‘Ok, well, now my road is going to be a little bit different.’ ”  -Dr Paula Marfia

“My husband was in the military, so we were in St. Louis and we ended up going up to Great Lakes Naval Base. My family is up here, so we were like, ‘Ok, fine.’ I got into Loyola, which was kind of a dream of mine. So I’m (accepted) here at Loyola and then we move. It was a big whirlwind and then all the sudden, ‘Well, I’m sorry. I need some time off, I’m gonna have a baby.’ So I was worried, but it was very enlightening and very nice that at Loyola, the first thing the dean said to me was not, ‘We just let you in and now you’re going to need maternity leave?’ It was, ‘Well, would you like to take an extra year off? You could finish if you want, but what do you want to do? What do you want?’ So that was a really good experience. As I went through and finished medical school, I had extra time. My focus was, how am I going to raise my kids and be a doctor? I wanted to have another kid and I didn’t want to have a child in residency, so I decided I would have a baby as soon as I was done with residency. I was like, ‘How am I going to have a job?’ So I would be asking was there any kind of part-time work? And they were like, ‘No, not really.’ That wasn’t an option back in 2008 or so. But they said they were looking to hire people to work nights part-time and so I was like, ‘Ok.’ They said you have to admit three patients and just answer the nurses phone calls. I was like, ‘Heck that’s nothing, residency was ten times worse than that.’ So I kind of just took it as an easy way to be able to work and keep up my skills and concentrate on my family. It ended up, that position flourished and it changed over time, and now it’s just a much bigger position. So it allowed me to have that flexibility that I want, and be there for my children.” -Dr. Paula Marfia

“How did you work your schedule so that you could actually work all night and then still be present for your kids during the day?” -Dr. Jen Barna

“So the one key thing was just planning and scheduling appropriately. The nice part about being a nocturnist was I get to make my schedule. So there’s three of us, and the three of us have to cover all the nights. It’s ten nights a month, so there are lots of days that I’m home. The days that I’m home I’m free to do all the activities that I need to do with my kids. So then I just need to plan the days that I’m working. I was very lucky that my dad retired from teaching right around the time I needed him to start watching the kids. My mom started going to work and my dad stayed home. They helped me watch my kids. So I would come home, I would take the kids to my parents house and they would let me sleep at their house. I would get five or six hours of solid sleep and then I was able to get up and do things for a few hours and then go to work.” -Dr. Paula Marfia

“We all only have a finite amount of time. So I started thinking about time. Really, there’s 168 hours in a week. When you say it that way, it’s like, ‘Ok, if I sleep eight hours a night that’s still 112 hours left to do things. So, ok, what are the things that I have to do?’ I just took an assessment of what I’m spending my time on. What am I spending my time on that I don’t want to spend my time on? How can I maximize the hours of the day that I do have so that I can do what I want to do? So really sitting down and actually planning. Having a planner, having an organizational system. You just have to find a few different things that work for you.” -Dr Paula Marfia

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