Practice Management

Visa worries intensify pandemic stress for immigrant hospitalist moms


 

Making time for positivity and self-care

Sandhya Tagaram, MD, a hospitalist at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, Mass., and her husband, also a hospitalist physician, had only ever read about pandemics in books. They certainly never expected to be in the middle of one. “That was a totally different level of anxiety to work as frontline physicians with two kids under 5 years and families away back home in India,” she said.

UMass Memorial Medical Center

Dr. Sandhya Tagaram, hospitalist at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, Mass.

Dr. Tagaram and her husband work opposite shifts so that one of them is always home with their two young children. “Our schedules became more challenging when the pandemic started. Between both of our schedules and with minimal childcare facilities, we managed to strike a decent work-family balance, although we experience less vacation time together. We are fortunate to have an understanding work group,” said Dr. Tagaram.

Even before COVID-19, Dr. Tagaram found working on the temporary work visa challenging. “I think the pandemic has exposed the layer of uncertainty associated with it,” she said. “It’s incredibly stressful to imagine any minor turbulence that could alter our family and work lives. As a frontline physician mom, I take pride in raising my kids and taking care of my patients. We want to serve our communities and at the same time secure our families.”

Not being able to visit family back home and travel is exceedingly difficult. Dr. Tagaram said it would be helpful if there was a separate permanent residence pathway for physicians because they play a critical role in public health and they have been an integral part of the COVID-19 pandemic response team. A separate pathway could help keep their families secure and enable them to give their best to their communities.

Amid all the anxiety, Dr. Tagaram said she and her husband realized they could not keep living with so much pressure. As parents and as physicians, they did not want their stress to leak out and affect their ability and commitment to care for their children or their patients. They decided they needed to figure out how to be positive and constructive.

“We try some daily fun activities with the kids after returning home from work,” said Dr. Tagaram. They also formed a bubble group with two other physician families so the children could interact safely. She said that it’s critical that physicians take time for themselves. “We have to cultivate a serious hobby that helps to rejuvenate and calm our busy minds,” said Dr. Tagaram.

She makes time every day to exercise and to read at least a few pages from a good book. She is also learning Carnatic music along with one of her daughters. And every month since March 2020, she has journaled about her work and what she learned so her daughters can read it someday. “These things keep me jazzed up,” she said.

The pandemic has highlighted the fact that we are all part of one global community. “Although we hail from different backgrounds, we learned that we do have some common goals of being kind and supportive to each other and to give back to our communities. Hopefully we will continue this spirit,” said Dr. Tagaram. As a physician mother, “I feel it’s a privilege and honor to take care of my family and my community.”

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