Spine surgeon by day, mother all the time: How high-energy spine surgeon Dr. Jocelyn Idema strikes the perfect balance


How does a high-energy spine surgeon start the day?

Jocelyn Idema, DO, is the perfect case study. As a busy spine surgeon, mother and wife, she is able to balance a successful career with a growing family. She usually starts the day around 5 a.m. with exercise and then gets her children ready for school so they're out the door by 6:30 am. Then she goes to her practice, The Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics - Mid-Maryland Muskuloskeletal Institute Division — either the office or operating room — for a full day before returning home in time for family time, bath time and quality time with her husband. She also takes general orthopedic call.


Before going to medical school, Dr. Idema was a labor and delivery nurse. When she began her training as a physician, she gravitated toward being an OB/GYN, but then realized the specialty wasn't for her; she wanted more instant gratification when treating patients, which was satisfied during a sports medicine rotation when a patient would come in with an injury, like a dislocated shoulder, and she could fix it quickly.


Orthopedics was then — and still is — a male-dominated field. But Dr. Idema had examples of strong women who were successful in male-dominated fields and her own mentors encourage her to continue pursing orthopedics and eventually spine.


"There was a female physician at UPMC, a trauma surgeon, who I heard speak when I was barely into orthopedics," says Dr. Idema. "She spoke at a conference and I was impressed. I thought if she could do it, I could do it. It was so inspirational that she was a woman in a male-dominated field. And she wasn't a big person, physically, but still performing orthopedic procedures. She was more brains over brawn, and I liked that."


Dr. Idema gave birth to her son during her last year of residency — the first woman in her program to do so. Then she also spent a portion of fellowship pregnant with her daughter. She balances her clinical practice with her family life, and both are critically important to who she is.


"It was important to me to have a family," says Dr. Idema. "My family enriches my life. Sometimes you feel like you aren't contributing enough energy to that portion of your life — I know many physicians who have families and we all have the same worries — but we have to realize we are doing enough."


Her husband also works in medicine — a physician's assistant — and they are able to work around each others' schedules. But that's not without challenges.


"One of the hardest things is being on call. My son is six years old, and he knows when Mom has scrubs on, she could need to go somewhere," says Dr. Idema. "One time I was about to read my son a book he picked out at the library, and I got paged to go put a girl in a splint at the hospital. My son knows the pager is a bad noise. He said, 'Why do you always have to go take care of other peoples' kids?'"


She makes time on the weekends for one-on-one activities with her son and daughter, which helps build a strong relationship between them.


In addition to her medical practice and family life, Dr. Idema also strives to stay physically fit and engage in charitable work. She has done krav maga and now has a home gym. She does Insanity videos — sometimes the children join in — and she's working on training for a 5k with her husband.


They also participate in charitable organizations, including the Back to Life Campaign, a non-profit for wounded warriors, firemen and EMTs to help them deal with chronic pain after returning from duty overseas.


"They are often in pain and have been given narcotics for years and told to go back on duty," says Dr. Idema. "Back to Life works to decrease the suicide rate in this population and reduce narcotics. Even if they don't qualify for the typical spine surgery, we can do spinal cord stimulators or provide other treatment."


Dr. Idema performs the medical work pro bono if the person doesn't have insurance, and the organization is run through donations. Over the past year, there were around six people who benefited from the treatment.


There are many more physicians — male and female — looking to find the right balance for a successful practice and personal life, and have enough energy to enjoy it all. Dr. Idema's advice to them?


"Just be prepared that you are going to feel like you're not 100 percent at everything, but you can switch gears and push the office out of your head when you're at home and be in the moment with your husband and kids," she says. "We are not diving into our jobs never to be seen again. Each of us makes time for our families, and I can plan ahead when I know there is an important event. You can do it all; it's going to be crazy, but that's your life as a physician anyway."

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