Balancing Work & Family When It's a Matter of Life & Death
Twenty years ago, Dr. Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa hopped a border fence from Mexico into the United States and became a migrant farm worker, living in the fields in a broken-down camper he bought for $300. When told he would probably be a farm worker for the rest of his life, he signed up for English classes at a community college, where one of his teachers encouraged him to apply to UC-Berkeley. There, he developed a passion for science, and showed remarkable aptitude. He went on to Harvard Medical School and graduated with honors, followed by a residency in neurosurgery at UC-San Francisco, where he completed a postdoctoral fellowship in developmental and stem cell biology. He later received the American Association of Neurological Surgeons Ronald Bittner Award. Dr. Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa is now an Associate Professor of Neurosurgery and Oncology at Johns Hopkins and serves as the Director of the brain tumor program at the The Johns Hopkins Bayview campus. There, his focus is on the surgical treatment of primary and metastatic brain tumors, with an emphasis on motor and speech mapping during surgery.
Question: It is difficult to balance your roles as surgeon and father?
Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa: My job is part of my family, and my family is part of my job. People say, "How do you do it?" First of all, you cannot put your patients or your family in front of each other. The way I think about it is my patients and my family are all part of who I am, and they're all common. Sometimes you have to learn how to prioritize, depending on who is sick in your life. Is it your family at home? Is it your family in the hospital? And you have to learn how to prioritize. But the most important thing that I have is a wonderful, wonderful wife and wonderful children who understand what I do, and I communicate with them at home.
Because many times I don't come home until very late at night because I'm either in the operating room or I'm either in the laboratory. And they understand my passion, they understand that these patients that I care for, they need me, not only as a surgeon but also as a scientist, and that communication is crucial, and you don't put one group in front of the other. Sometimes you have to learn to move things around and to be fluid and to be able to bring them as part of what you do. We're all partners in this endeavor.
Question: What do you do to relax?
Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa: What I do to-- I'm relaxing right now. No, I have a wonderful time. I love to go out with the kids. We go out for walks. Every now and then, when we have a chance, we go to the beach. I love to take them to movies. I have a fond appreciation for kids' movies nowadays. My oldest daughter, Gabriella, is nine; David just turned seven last week; Olivia just turned three the week before. So I run around with them, and my wife and I we just- sometimes we just sit in the backyard and watch them play and do a little barbecuing and things like that. And from time to time, when I have a chance, I read a good book.
And I also relax in doing what I do. I really do mean it. I have a great deal of relaxation when I sit and write a grant and write a paper or read a paper or review a paper. So all these things are part of what I do. And I really do love my job, which is the most important thing.
So I really do mean it, when I'm relaxing, when I'm in the operating room and I'm under that microscope and I'm operating, my whole body is connected with that patient, and I'm like one person. The whole world stops right then. Even though I'm super concentrated, my heartbeat is slow. The rhythm, I can feel it, and I feel like I am in my zone, and it's just a great feeling.
Recorded on: July 2, 2008
Dr. Q says, with work and family, sometimes you have to learn to be flexible with priorities.