Dr. Donna Pacicca is a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, most often treating kids with sports-related injuries. Originally from New York, Dr. Pacicca started both her career and her family in Boston. Her clinical research focuses on sports medicine. One of her current projects studies the relationship between ACL/PCL injuries and growth plates including which kids are more likely to tear again or tear on the other side of the body. On the science side of her research, Dr. Pacicca studies the effects of diabetes on bones. She is also an assistant professor at University of Missouri – Kansas City School of Medicine.
Tell me about your family.
“I am married 25 years. My husband is a stay-at-home dad. I have two sons, a senior and freshman. My younger son is a Type 1 diabetic, hence my interest. They are both musically orientated, and no one is into science. On the weekends, I’m a band mom. Running kids around, putting the props together, load and unload stuff. It’s kind of fun!”
At what point in your medical career did you start your family?
“I was threatened with bodily harm during my residency. I trained during the era before there were work hour restrictions. They were like ‘you can’t get pregnant.’ I delayed having children until I was in practice with my first job in Boston.”
How do you balance a demanding career and family life?
“There is no such thing as balance. Balance means you have it all together. I have nothing together. I always feel like I’m behind; I’m missing something. I’m giving something up to do something else.
“I’m balancing the research and the surgery/clinical stuff. There are plenty of times where I’ve had experiments going on where I’m going in on weekends. My kids have accused me of liking cells better than them. When they are evil, I remind them I like the cells better.”
Was that pull to be in two places at once easier when your sons were little or easier now that they are older?
“In some respects it’s easier because my kids understand. Harder because there are so many things they are doing I really hate to miss. I resigned myself to missing every single Muffins with Mom in elementary school. But now someone has a key performance – I don’t want to miss it.”
How do you find time for yourself and your marriage?
“I find brilliant ways to multitask. I find that a pedicure is a one-hour time block when no one can bother me. I get a foot massage, my toes look pretty and I get work (reading abstract papers) done! That’s my me time that I try to do once a month. It helps me center.
“My husband and I don’t have to get a babysitter anymore. We have date nights. That’s important to be able to connect.”
How does being a mother help you in your job in working with kids?
“It’s nice to be able to identify as a parent, not just a doctor. Before I had kids I would say stuff, I kind of had an idea but I really had no idea. Now, I am the first person to tell my patients, as part of their rehab they have to clean their room. I have two children, I know. I am very candid about being a parent and when people come for surgical consultation, I’m upfront on what I think is a good idea or a bad idea. I think it’s good for them to hear that it’s OK to be on the fence. People always want to know what would they do if it were their kid – I give them that info.”
What is it teaching your kids to have a dad at home full time?
“A lot of fart jokes. There are different styles. That was the hardest thing for me to realize. My husband does things differently. You do things your way, your spouse does things a different way. You have to accept that difference, and give up being a control freak, otherwise you’ll go insane.”
What is your advice for moms in the trenches of mothering young children?
“You can do a lot, but you can’t do it all. Nobody can do it all. There is always something you’re giving up. The working dads are giving up time with their family. It’s crazy in some ways that women are the ones that beat themselves up more about this because they are the traditional at home people, and that’s a load of crap.
“Maximize the time that you can in doing stuff with your kids. We always try to do something fun on the weekends. That’s something I learned from my mom. There’s time to do housework, but time to do something fun or different. I’m also a big fan of the bedtime ritual – do whatever you can to read to your kids. It’s a nice connection and good way to help kids with their vocabulary. Getting fun books from the library – reading is such a great way to connect.
“Don’t forget about yourself, it’s the hardest thing. You want to make sure you have time for yourself and time to spend with your partner to be able to decompress. Being able to bring adult conversation back is a good thing; everybody needs that.”