Chapter 12: Family Life and Life Balance

Title

Chapter 12: Family Life and Life Balance

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In this chapter, Dr. Benjamin talks about his children and his family life. He begins by talking about the career choices his sons have made and why they chose not to go into medicine. He then talks about the commitment to patients that a medical career demands. Dr. Benjamin then explains how his very close family relationships have enabled him to do the very emotional work of practicing medicine with cancer patients.

Identifier

BenjaminR_02_20150116_C12

Publication Date

1-16-2015

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The Interview Subject's Story - Personal Background; Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents; Personal Background; Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents; The Life and Dedication of Clinicians and Researchers

Transcript

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

All right. So we are officially recording, and the time is about just shy of five minutes after two. I’m Tacey Ann Rosolowski, and I’m in the office of Dr. Robert Benjamin today for our second session together. So thank you very much for continuing our conversation.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

+You had mentioned before we turned on the recorder that you hadn’t talked about your sons, so I wanted to ask you just quickly to tell me what you had in your mind about telling that story.

Robert Benjamin, MD:

Yeah. So I think I told you a lot about my wife, who did her English PhD for fun, couldn’t get her teaching position and so went to law school. And our sons have both taken up her careers. So my older son is a professor in the English department, or an associate professor in the English department at SUNY/Albany.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Oh, really. And his name?

Robert Benjamin, MD:

His name is Bret, with one t. And he’s my fishing buddy. He’s a lot better fly fisherman than I am, because he gets more chance to do it.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

That’s a great part of the country, too, to do fishing, too.

Robert Benjamin, MD:

Right. So whenever we go up there to visit, usually he and I will go off somewhere and go fishing, at least one day out of the visits.My younger son, who was the more difficult of the two growing up, has finally settled down and he’s taken up Nancy’s second career, so he’s an attorney, not completely sure how his legal career will end up because he’s still fairly new at that position. He’s had a number of other careers before that, but now finally he’s an attorney.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

And his name?

Robert Benjamin, MD:

And that’s Jeremy. And they each have one child, so we have a couple of grandchildren, and they’re loads of fun to be with.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

I bet.

Robert Benjamin, MD:

And they like each other. They’re a year apart in age. Jeremy’s son, Aki [phonetic], is six days shy of a year older than Bret’s daughter, Jolie [phonetic]. So that’s, anyway, more family stuff, but that’s important.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah. Now, was it significant that your sons chose not to go into medicine? What was that about?

Robert Benjamin, MD:

Oh, they just never saw me because I was working too hard, so they decided that medicine meant too much time away. Actually, they saw me on weekends, but they didn’t see me a lot during the week. So they decided that they didn’t want to be in that kind of a career, but they’re both extremely busy at what they do, and I think it’s always true that the more you enjoy your job, the longer you work.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah, that’s so true. Absolutely true. When you look back, because obviously family is really, really important to you—

Robert Benjamin, MD:

Mm-hmm.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

When you look back, I mean, what is your view of the time you spent at work versus time you spent at home, you know, the whole life-balance thing?

Robert Benjamin, MD:

I don’t have a great—how shall I put this? I think once you make a commitment to a career in medicine, that is the life balance, and it’s wonderful and nice to be able to have a life outside, but your primary responsibility is taking care of your patients, and that’s in a lot of ways a twenty-four-hour-a-day job. And, yeah, clearly there are times when you’re not doing it, somebody is covering for you, but most of the time work is work.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

I’m wondering, too, you know, it seems to me that both with research and also clearly with patient care, it isn’t something that you really put down and put out of your mind when you’re away from the institution you work at, because, you know, it’s like it’s always on the back burner of your mind somehow. I mean, is that the case?

Robert Benjamin, MD:

Pretty much. I mean, I don’t spend my time away from here obsessing over what happened or what might be happening to my patients, but I always feel that I have to be available for them. So it’s just—but I don’t think my mind fixates on that when I go.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

So you are able to—

Robert Benjamin, MD:

Yeah. I can—

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

—put it aside then.

Robert Benjamin, MD:

—turn things off temporarily.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Thank goodness for that. (laughs)

Robert Benjamin, MD:

Yeah. Yeah.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Is there anything else you wanted to say about your family or—

Robert Benjamin, MD:

No, I think that’s—I just sort of felt that I’d left out the kids. We’re very close, and it’s fun to see when your kids grow up, how they turn into real people and have their own lives, and how some of the things that you think you tried to teach them when you were kids actually come through in what they do and how they do it.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Has your close family had any effect on your ability to work at MD Anderson or any impact on your professional career? Some people have mentioned that it’s a real help to them. I’m wondering if you find that.

Robert Benjamin, MD:

I don’t—I mean, I think the answer is yes, but I don’t know, because it’s just that’s part of life, and I don’t go home and say, “Oh, thank goodness I’m home, I can forget about the trials and tribulations of work,” but at the same time, I guess, I don’t think I would have been able to do what I do if I didn’t have a close family.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Why would you say that?

Robert Benjamin, MD:

The practice of medicine is a very emotionally—what should I say—emotionally laden profession. It’s one thing about the scientific dealing with what are the answers to the medical mysteries that come up and how do you fix that scientifically, but a very big portion of it is the emotional attachment to the person who’s sick and dealing with that person’s problems as best you can, and that just deals with humanity. So who I am as a person is a part of what happens with me and my family and what happens with me and my patients, and they’re intertwined.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Thanks for talking about that. That’s interesting. I’m glad you brought up the whole family connection. And I have to say you have a big smile on your face when you talk about you family, so that’s pretty neat. (laughs)

Robert Benjamin, MD:

Yeah. Well, they are pretty neat.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah. Would you like to shift gears now?

Robert Benjamin, MD:

Sure.

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Chapter 12: Family Life and Life Balance

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