Juggling My Roles as a Caregiver and Working Professional
A lived experience story by Cindy Yip, with editing assistance from Shelagh Ross
Eager to pursue a meaningful career in healthcare, I graduated from Queen’s University as one of the few female engineers at the time. I went on to obtain a master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of Toronto in biomedical engineering. Throughout the course of my education and career, I developed a passion for advancing patient care – the work I do is important to me.
Today, I wear many hats. A full-time professional, daughter, partner, and immigrant. I am also a caregiver to my father who has heart failure. I have come to realize that striking a balance between caring for my father, caring for my career, and caring for myself requires proactive planning and help along the way. I don’t think my story is unique.
Proactive career planning
With multiple heart issues, I recognized early on that my father’s heart health would likely worsen over time and my caregiving responsibilities would increase, with unexpected needs along the way. This meant that relocating for any employment would be challenging. As a result, I decided against going abroad for a post-doctoral fellowship and professorship, an atypical path for a doctoral degree graduate. I also anticipated a high likelihood of needing flexibility in my work and the ability to work remotely as my father’s health deteriorated. This meant that a role in a research laboratory or medical device manufacturing company wouldn’t be suitable, as these roles often require in-person work. Recognizing all these challenges has not stopped me from pursuing a fulfilling career; rather, it has guided me to set realistic career goals.
My advice to young female professionals and caregivers:
- Network locally and early in your professional development journey to explore both traditional and alternative career options.
- Be willing to adapt your transferrable skills to advance your professional goals.
- Understand the type of flexibility you may need to care for your loved one.
- Most importantly, don’t give up your career dream. With some flexibility and planning, it is possible to care for a loved one and to pursue a meaningful career.
Seek support from employers
As caregivers, we are encouraged to ask family and friends for help during times of need. However, this can be challenging for newcomers or immigrants whose family and friends are far from Canada. As time goes by, I have realized that my employers can be a great source of support.
Early in my career, I avoided discussing my caregiving situation with employers. I was concerned that my personal situation may strain our relationship and make me less “professional.” I was concerned that I would be given less challenging assignments or that my professional development would be hindered. What I did not realize was that by having these conversations early on with my employers, I was being proactive in tackling the challenges ahead while creating an honest and transparent partnership.
What I would have done earlier in my career:
- Engage in early conversations with my managers about my caregiving situation. Don’t wait until the situation becomes unbearable.
- Be aware of the caregiver benefits offered by some employers, such as flexible work, leave of absence, and the Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
- When my employers expressed support, I should have brainstormed ways to maintain high performance at work while managing caregiving responsibilities. For example, I have since found ways to leverage technology to be more flexible about how/where I work and maximize my productivity. Explore different digital tools and channels you can use to make your work more flexible and take the time to introduce and explain them to your employer. I’ve come to learn that it is possible to explore work arrangements that may be beneficial to both you and your employer.
Feelings and emotions: Make time for them, too!
Difficult issues will still occur as you juggle your caregiving responsibilities with your career. The stress and fatigue from caregiving may impact your productivity at work, or vice versa. Regular self-checks on your emotional wellbeing can help you stay focussed, organized, and calm. If your employer offers mental wellness days, use them! You will be amazed by the restorative power of even just one day off from work.
Resources on managing your emotions:
- Mental health playbook for business leaders: Research-informed workplace recommendations from Canada’s foremost mental health hospital and global leader in mental health research.
- BounceBack Ontario: A free skill-building program for mental well-being managed by CAMH, with a referral from a family physician.
- My HeartLife App: A free, secure social community for individuals living with heart failure and their caregivers.
Caregiving is rewarding, but at times challenging. With today’s multi-dimensional roles demanded of women, life can get very complicated. Proactive career planning and keeping an open dialogue with your employers about your caregiving situation can help reduce overall stress levels. Lastly, there are trusted resources to help you develop your emotional intelligence.