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Juggling Expert

When Dr. Jackson met a lawyer-turned-life coach through a mothers group, the two “bonded over some common experiences.” Soon they created a podcast called “The Two Lady Coaches,” which appeals to Dr. Jackson’s interests beyond medicine. “We both have children, and are concurrently managing marriage, aging parents, and career. How do you balance personal and professional growth with parenting and personal relationships?” she asks. The podcast targets women in their mid-thirties or older, entering the height of their career while juggling all of life’s balls.

Brooke Jackson, MD planned to go into Obstetrics and Gynecology. One night during her third year Ob/Gyn rotation, she asked all of the residents and attendings in the call room if they would choose OB/GYN again. “Not a single one of them said ‘yes,’” she recalls. Most cited lack of work/life balance. Though she later met obstetricians satisfied in their careers, Dr. Jackson decided at that time to pivot to dermatology both for work/life balance and an appealing flexibility in what she would do in practice every day. Today she is in private practice in Durham, NC.

What have you found to be pros and cons of academic and private practice?

My father was chairman of the department of pathology at Howard university for 42 years, so I literally grew up in the halls of academia, and I loved it. That was probably my drive. My experience was having a parent as a physician who was present in my life. What I love about academics is the ongoing learning process and teaching. What I am frustrated with by academics is that change happens very slowly. You really have very little control over the direction that things can take, because so many different people are involved in every single decision. That can be very frustrating.

I created my private practices so that I could function as a mentor for premedical students. I continue to write book chapters, publish articles, and lecture at conferences. I particularly enjoy developing long-term relationships with my patients.

When I was doing my Mohs fellowship with Dr. Leonard Goldberg in Houston, he was transitioning out of his academic position into private practice. I was fortunate to witness the entire process. When I finished my fellowship, I took a position at MD Anderson as the first Mohs surgeon this cancer hospital had ever had and was tasked with setting up the Mohs unit. It was a great learning experience. It was also a challenge, because Mohs was in the section of dermatology and the department of medicine, but I was physically located in the plastic surgery department. So I had three layers of people involved in everything that I did.

I eventually relocated back to Chicago and opened my first private practice with a clinical appointment in the Department of Dermatology at Northwestern. I very much enjoyed the combination. When I opened my practice, I was single with no kids. Ten years later, when my office lease was up, I was married with three kids. For me, this was an opportunity for a transition that was appropriate for this new phase of life—balancing career and family with small children. I made the decision to step back in my career, travel less, speak at fewer conferences and put the needs of my family first. My father had passed away in 2003, and my aging mother lives in Washington, DC. The Chapel Hill area offered an opportunity to be close to her while providing educational and other opportunities my husband and I wanted for our children. So we relocated.

Do you agree with the notion that dermatology can be more family-friendly than other specialties?

Medicine is changing and it’s changing rapidly. Statistics show that medicine is becoming a predominantly female field. Most people finishing medical education are in their prime childbearing/family rearing age. Women will figure out a way to make it work.

You have to love whatever field of medicine you choose and, while work life balance is a consideration, it cannot be the sole reason for choosing a specialty. You have to do some soul searching and figure out what you enjoy doing (procedures, research) in medicine and what you want to do outside of medicine (running, traveling). Because at some point you’re going to retire or burn out and may pivot. What is that change going to look like for you?

As a coach, what’s your best advice to dermatology residents?

I have never met a dermatologist who doesn’t like dermatology, so you’ve chosen well! One of the beautiful things about dermatology that I love and that was really attractive to me is that whatever your preference is—medical, surgical, cosmetic—there is a path for you. Throughout the course of your career, there are options to rebalance the focus of your career. Dermatology also provides the opportunity to make lifelong connections with your patients.

Why did a “coaching” podcast appeal to you?

Coaching is what I do every day. I function as a skin coach with my patients. One of my “a-ha” moments in dermatology was that we don’t really cure much, we manage chronic disease, including aging. I educate patients about their disease process and coach them to be compliant. I coach patients about how to mange their chronic skin conditions, and I coach people about how their lifestyle choices affect their skin and hair.

In every career there is a temptation and tendency to compare yourself to others in your field and make a judgment about your own path. It’s not just in dermatology. It’s in life. Don’t do that to yourself. We see this even with our patients who are on social media and with selfies.

It’s the same thing with career. This is your career path. You can’t look at your co-residents and say, well why are they doing this and I’m not? Stay in your lane and figure out what you want to do, because your authenticity is believable and will bring you joy. If there is no lane for you then create it. You will not have authentic joy if you are trying to emulate or do something that is not your natural flow.

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