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My Kind of Medicine: Real Lives of Practicing Internists: Farzanna S. Haffizulla, MD, FACP
If anyone has earned the right to add "expert on work/life balance" to her CV, it is Dr. Farzanna Haffizulla, wife and mother of four, internist, author, entrepreneur, health correspondent, leader, teacher, and motivational speaker.
Raising a family and building a career is a challenging endeavor, especially for working mothers who are still shouldering much of the work in managing households. The good news, however, is that effective parenting skills translate well to the workplace. In her book, Harmony of the Spheres: Career, Family and Community, Dr. Haffizulla cites a Clark University study that found that parents committed to family life "excelled at tasks that embodied effective managers: multitasking, handling and managing stress, and negotiating with difficult employees."
Dr. Haffizulla's prescription for staying focused and energized in her career and her role as a mother of four is about motivation, focus, and strategy. "It's truly about your mindset," says Dr. Haffizulla, "if you are doing something that is also your passion you will have boundless energy." She also stays clearly focused on her priorities (family is #1), and uses every tool, method and resource available to maximize the use of her time.
"It's been a fantastic, exciting, 500-mile an hour journey," says Dr. Haffizulla; exciting and fast-paced, perhaps, but not haphazard. By enlisting help from others, designing a career with a flexible schedule, and optimizing the use of technology, planning tools, and organizational strategies she has charted a course for a life she describes as "rewarding and empowering."
Path to Medicine
Dr. Haffizulla's path to a career in medicine began when she was just four years old growing up in Trinidad, the Caribbean island situated just off the coast of Venezuela, where her mother, a charge nurse at the San Fernando General Hospital, would often bring her along while working the night shift on the pediatric ward. While her mother made her rounds, checking IVs and incubators of tiny patients, young Farzanna would leave her crayons at the nurse's station and make her way into the rooms of the older children to tell them stories and offer them a reprieve from sickness and loneliness. "I wanted to do in some way what I saw my mother doing," says Dr. Haffizulla, "I wanted to help and heal."
When her family left Trinidad and moved to Florida, Dr. Haffizulla was a 14-year-old honors student who had a knack for science and math. A school administrator in Orlando, after examining her transcripts, thought she might be ready to begin college; however, the family decided it best to place her in 11th grade so she could acclimate to her new environment and culture.
At sixteen, she entered the University of Central Florida where she graduated summa cum laude with a degree in Molecular Biology and Microbiology. As a first-year medical student at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, she met and married fellow medical student, Jason Haffizulla. The couple's first child, daughter Zarina, was born at the end of their third year and four years later, while completing their internal medicine residencies at Cleveland Clinic Florida, Dr. Haffizulla gave birth to their second daughter, Anisa.
When asked if it was hard being pregnant and caring for an infant while managing the mental and physical demands of medical school rotations and residency, Dr. Haffizulla responds with a resounding, "Absolutely!" But she was young, determined to succeed, and had help from those closest to her.
If it takes a village to raise a child, it must take a city to raise four and Dr. Haffizulla is quick to acknowledge help she received from those she loves. "I married the right man," says Dr. Haffizulla. "My husband is not only a great parenting partner, he has been my best source of support and encouragement." Her in-laws kept a roof over their heads during the early years, helped with childcare, and gave the couple a start in her father-in-law's medical practice where her husband, an internist, still practices today.
And she credits her own parents as excellent role models who taught her the value of hard work and caring about the needs of others. "Nurses in Trinidad are truly the first responders," says Dr. Haffizulla, "my mother is comfortable taking charge and delegating, and my father, a math teacher and businessman, is an empowered individual—highly organized and just a natural leader."
While others deserve their rightful credit, make no mistake, Dr. Haffizulla is a tour de force all her own. She has a boundless source of energy, is highly organized, and has a unique set of skills that combine her love of science and instinct for business.
After practicing five years with her husband and father-in-law, Dr. Haffizulla chose to open her own concierge, Internal Medicine hybrid private practice. "I wanted a more flexible schedule and to spend more time with my patients," she says. She also wanted to achieve her vision of a paperless office and provide patients with a mix of care options, including office visits, house calls and telemedicine.
In her work and household, Dr. Haffizulla is an expert planner who maintains calendars, uses flow charts, and admits that one of her greatest skills is her ability to view the components of her multi-layered life as a kind of holographic image from which she can spot opportunities, areas that overlap, and how one strategic move can accomplish several goals. "My mind works in a different way," she admits, "I like to organize my tasks in terms of their commonality, almost like a Venn diagram."
She enjoys coaching students and offers them strategic career advice: "It's never too early to start networking and building bridges; You are an ambassador to yourself, so be very careful how you present yourself in social media; Continue developing your skills; and most importantly, Discover what you like best and find a way to do it. There is no one-size-fits-all career path."
Dr. Haffizulla's own career is as broad and diverse as the field of internal medicine. In addition to her clinical practice, she is currently serving as the 2014-15 national president of the American Medical Women's Association (AMWA) where one of her goals is to improve the synergy among health care and professional organizations, including a collaborative project she is working on with ACP. She is the author of two books, Harmony of the Spheres: Career, Family and Community and Lead with your Heart: A Doctor's Rx for Personal and Professional Success, and the on-camera show host and medical correspondent for the nationwide health program, Mission Critical Health.
She manages a work/life balance website www.BusyMomMD.com, teaches Honors Organic Chemistry to pre-med seniors at American Heritage School and is an Affiliate Clinical Assistant Professor of Biomedical Science at the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine at Florida Atlantic University. She also serves as Voluntary Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Miami and is a primary scientific board member of Shulman Institutional Review Board for clinical research.
to right, Dr. Jason Haffizulla, Dr. Farzanna Haffizulla; Middle,
left to right, Anisa (11), Zarina(15), Nadia (9),and Front, Adam
Dr. Haffizulla has earned several awards including the Volunteerism and Community Service award from the Florida Chapter of the ACP, a Quality First Award from the Florida Heath Care Coalition, and a Leading Physician of the World Award from The International Association of Healthcare Professionals. She was also selected as an "Outstanding Woman in Healthcare" and "Woman of Outstanding Leadership" by the International Women's Leadership Association.
Like their parents, the Haffizulla children enjoy learning, are goal oriented, and have their own share of awards. In addition to their scholastic achievements, they play musical instruments and practice martial arts. "As a family we like to travel, play board games, and we are all foodies in our house," says Dr. Haffizulla. "I love to cook, my husband tends our vegetable garden, and all of us love being in the kitchen and cooking a meal together."
Achievements are impressive and awards are always nice, but it is quite clear-Dr. Haffizulla's number one priority is creating a legacy for her children. "As a parent, you're the living example for your children. You can talk to them all day long, but if you don't put your words into action it is worth nothing." In Harmony of the Spheres, she recalls her own mother's influence, "I saw how important my mother's work was to her. It taught me the values of compassion, industriousness, and responsibility. It defined for me the ideal and power of the working mother."
Compassion, industriousness, and responsibility-values being passed from one generation to the next-are a working mother's legacy, a valuable resource for the community, and a gift to us all.