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Balancing work and home as an OD during the holidays


Tracy Schroeder Swartz, OD, FAAO describes how her life as an OD during the holidays changed over time. From after graduation to having her own family, Dr. Swartz finds that the balance has changed.

The views expressed here belong to the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of Optometry Times or UBM Medica.  

Practicing over the holidays has always been difficult for me. I like to keep everyone happy, and during the holidays I just cannot.

I cannot please my patients, my staff, my spouse, my kids, or my parents. Do not even get me started on trying to fit in the family holiday gatherings with my aunts, uncles, cousins, and their kids. Now that I am an adult, I have to choose.

Adulting is hard.

Previously from Dr. Schroeder-Swartz: ODs: Rulers of the Land of Presbyopia

Holidays after graduation

When I was just out of school, life was easy. I had loans to pay back, gifts to purchase, and limited vacation time. I had no choice but to work. My husband was a resident at George Washington Hospital and had no life for four years.

I worked on the weekends, both Saturday and Sunday, to make extra money. Back then, I could work 10 hours Monday through Friday and manage to wake up and work 10 more on Saturday. I could also manage a noon to four shift on Sunday while still fitting in grocery shopping for the next week so my husband and I could eat.

We both had Christmas Day and New Year’s Day off. I have no idea how I got my Christmas gifts purchased, wrapped, and mailed to the proper recipient without losing my mind. Back then, there were less gifts. I had no children.

My sister had no husband and no kids. I had no nieces, no nephews, and my cousins were all working just as much as I was. My mom and dad were happy to not be paying for college anymore and all was right with the world.

Most importantly, back then I was able to make extra bonuses for working the holiday. I worked for anyone who did not want to and was willing to pay extra to get vacation time during the holiday.

Related: Holiday gift giving for ODs made easy

When you are young (and spry), you can work for six hours with no food or water on four hours of sleep. You can stand all day in heels, smile, and sell extra pairs all day long because you love to get those big holiday paychecks. It was worth it.

Holidays with a family

Jump forward a few years to when my husband and I started a family. Families make adulting extremely stressful. Now, I had to fit in time for my patients, my office staff, my parents, my in-laws, my children, my sister, and her family.

I had to forget about the Schroeders back in Wisconsin who I now see only in the summer. Because I thought my patients could not possibly live without seeing me for glasses on their vision plan before their benefits ran out on December 31, I worked most of the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Thankfully, my toddlers did not miss me, or at least they did not voice their opinions.


Holidays with sick kids

For those who do not have children, there is an illness moms and dads develop over the holidays. When children are babies/toddlers it is called, “My child got a cold/cough/fever/stomach virus/rash from daycare/Mother’s Day Out/Sunday school/the neighbor child.”

Let me assure you, this is true.

Little ones get sick all the time over the holidays, and babysitters hate babysitting sick children. If you do not have a large private room at your practice with a couch, TV, “barf-bucket,” and a nanny, you may have a problem going in to work.

When children become school aged, parents suffer from “vacation-itis.” Kids are less likely to be sick as they get older, so now parents are at home, watching movies, and eating junk food in their pajamas. Moms and dads are doing all the things they wanted to do over the holiday but could not. We ODs actually have to get up and go to work. You cannot wear pajamas to work as an OD, even the day after Christmas.

At this point in life I decided to pull back a little. I worked Monday through Friday and no longer on the weekends-unless I was called in for an emergency. I then went in to assess the emergency situation, and ran to Toy R Us on the way home.

Related: The best and worst parts of holidays as an OD mom

Finding a holiday balance

I juggled my vacation days with my colleagues to keep the office covered for my valuable patients. But now the almighty paycheck was not quite as important as being with my family. I had to go to Wisconsin for Christmas at some point because our kids needed to know how to sled down a hill without hitting a tree, person, car, or building.

Fast forward a few more years, I now realize that the majority of my gifts will be purchased online so there is less “shopping at the mall” and more “shopping on the couch” while watching movies in my pajamas.

I now have a chauffeur to drive me to places I need to go because my oldest can drive. My parents now alternate between my sister’s home and mine for the holidays because all of us together is just too many loud people in one place. My family and I do not travel much because the kids want to spend time with their friends and boarding the dogs is too expensive.

I could work more over the holidays, but I don’t because I am not able to work six hours in heels, with no food, and smiling all day. I no longer feel the need to slave for the almighty dollar while my family is waiting for me at home.

My office is now closed between Christmas and New Year’s Day. No reduced doctor hours or optician- only exceptions.

No friends, we are closed.

Doors are locked from December 23 to January 2. 

Related: 15 things that drive ODs crazy during the holidays

Family first

We used to be open during the holidays, and patients would come in droves for their glasses and contact lenses. We would book patients’ appointments up to three months before year’s end, but then we started to consider closing our practice to enjoy the winter break.

Yes, we made a lot of money during the holidays, but we also missed out on a lot of family time.

The first year we closed, we gave everyone a huge “heads up” and started talking with patients about the holiday closure after Halloween. I discussed vision plan benefits with our patients and reminded them to come back in before Christmas.

The first year was a little rocky. We had some complaints from patients, but now we defend our family-oriented model. If you do not like me spending time with my family, well, honestly, I do not like you either.

In addition to being closed for Christmas, we now also close for fall and spring break.

Yes, that is three weeks per year that I get to spend time with my family while my staff spends time with theirs.

It is worth it. 

Read more from Dr. Schroeder-Swartz here

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