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Di Stephens: It's life

Di Stephens is our Northern Territory representative, and an indomitable force within the intensive care community. Her contribution to health in the territory, as well as intensive care within Australia is overwhelming. She writes candidly for us about her experiences.

It’s not about work life balance – it’s just life

After 18 years as Director of ICU at Royal Darwin Hospital I went on sabbatical for a year to Fiji in 2016. It was an opportunity to recalibrate my life and redistribute the many roles I had taken on across the NT health system. When I returned to Darwin in February 2017, I started a new job as Medical Director at the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre (NCCTRC).

No after hours or on call, time to spend with my family, new challenges at work – the perfect next step. The job is great – challenging and rewarding – I lead clinical governance, research and academic partnerships for the NCCTRC and I teach and train disaster preparedness and response in the Asia Pacific region. I meet amazing people and get to contribute in a small way to helping them improve their local systems. I travel a lot internationally and interstate for work. It’s hard to find time to fit in clinical time in ICU but somehow I make it work. I have been on the CICM Board since 2012 and travel interstate at least 4 times a year in this role. On the Board I have filled various roles and since 2016 I have been the Censor – a role I have found challenging and fulfilling. I have a wonderful husband who is a stay at home Dad for our two beautiful boys who are now 11 and 8 years old.

I keep telling myself that life will get less busy and the plan to be at home with my boys more will somehow work out one day soon. It’s a narrative that is very seductive because everything I’m doing in my life – at home and professionally is part of me, is part of my life. It’s been more than 18 months now and I’m realising the “one day” narrative is not happening anytime soon – I counted the trips I had committed to already in 2019 – 9 trips away from home – all of them close to a week, one requiring two weeks. This is the planned trips – others routinely pop up in my new line of work at relatively short notice. And there were serious signals from my boys that they needed me to be more present. I was also getting significant anxiety leaving them so often and really missed being settled at home – I was getting way too good at packing a suitcase!

Sometimes there are choices we have to make – it’s not work and life as separate entities – it’s life – and time is something you can never get back. I have had to make some decisions about letting some of my responsibilities go and it’s hard. My life includes the work that fulfils me (paid and unpaid) and my family. Contrary to popular parlance it’s not possible to do it all and do it all well. Sometimes you don’t know you’ve overdone it until you’re hanging by your fingernails on the edge of a cliff. Time to get a safe distance from the edge. I have decided to focus on my work in the Asia Pacific and cut down on other roles requiring time and travel such as my CICM Board position and the Censor position. I love the College work and it’s been a part of my life for more than 6 years. It was a hard decision to make. It’s time in my life to free up more time for being with my family. It’s time to make the ‘one day’ happen now. It’s been a struggle but now that I’ve said it out loud I feel I can breathe easier.

C’est la vie!

P.s. I strongly encourage female intensivists with more space in their life than me to step up to nominate for the election in the beginning of 2019 – there is so much value in having a gender balanced Board and it such a worthwhile endeavour to give back and help shape this wonderful profession of ours.

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