“I would say know yourself as a person, and understand yourself outside of your role as a doctor, outside of your career in medicine, because it's just part of who you are. It's not all of who you are.” - Dr. Shirin Dason
In this episode, we chat with Dr. Shirin Dason, a Gynecologic Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility (REI) fellow. We learn about her journey with family planning, juggling fellowship with having young children and her valuable advice to other medical learners.
We appreciate your feedback - please leave a comment and subscribe so you never miss a new episode!
Dr. Shirin Dason, M.D.
Dr. Shirin Dason is an obstetrician gynecologist and currently completing her clinical fellowship in reproductive endocrinology and infertility at Mount Sinai Fertility, University of Toronto. She has spearheaded the resource hub at www.familyplanningfordocs.com with her team to highlight useful information about family planning in a medical career.
Radha Sharma: Welcome to season 1 episode 21 of Family Planning for Docs - Thriving or Surviving. This podcast is an extension of our platform at www.familyplanningfordocs.com, a website created for Canadian medical trainees to highlight useful information about family planning in a medical career. Our group has a mission to inform medical trainees about their options regarding family planning while navigating training, career, and personal life. Our research has demonstrated that personal stories are highly impactful, and we hope to provide access to a diverse number of stories, to current trainees. On our podcast we hope to capture the stories of medical professionals who have navigated the training process and a medical career while planning parenthood, parenting and the supports that they had along the way.
Radha Sharma: In this special episode, we have Dr. Shirin Dason. We are thrilled to have you on our podcast today and a huge thank you on behalf of the entire team for taking the time to share your story with us today.
Shirin Dason: Yes, of course, I'm very happy to join
Radha Sharma: Awesome, so we'll get started with some questions about what you do. What does a day in the life of Dr. Dason look like?
Shirin Dason: Sure. Yeah. So I am a gynecologic reproductive endocrinology and infertility. fellow. I'm in the final year of my trading. So I basically did 5 years of obstetrics and gynecology. And then, now I'm doing a 2 year fellowship in infertility medicine. So my days are a little bit varied. Right now I'm on my procedural rotation, which just means that I go in every day for about 8 AM, I do transvaginal ultrasound guided egg retrievals for egg freezing cycles or IVF cycles. I do embryo transfers, which are part of IVF cycles and then we also do things like sonohysterograms, hysteroscopies, that type of thing. So that's what I'm doing right now. That's a procedural day, and then we also do a lot of clinics. And so in my clinics I see a lot of patients who are struggling with infertility or recurrent pregnancy loss or who have reproductive endocrinology issues like they're not getting their periods, amenorrhea, those sorts of things.
Radha Sharma: Since OB/GYN kind has a lot of variety in what sort of you know fellowships you can do, how did you know that you wanted to go into REI?
Shirin Dason: Yeah. So I decided pretty early, I would say, when I was in my PGY2 year, I was really inspired and motivated by a lot of the patients that I met in the emergency department who were struggling with fertility issues and were having complications like miscarriages or ectopic pregnancies. And I realized that I really liked that patient population. I found it very gratifying to help them through their situation, and to help them understand and to deal with their anxieties about their process. And then I actually also struggled with infertility in the same year. And so I think that kind of really brought closer to the issues that my patients face and the struggles that they go through. And so I think that that kind of solidified my desire to go into this field of medicine.
Radha Sharma: Thank you for sharing that with us, Shirin. You said that you're almost done your fellowship, how much longer do you have?
Shirin Dason: I have about 10 months left. I'm done in the middle of May, officially
Radha Sharma: Exciting.
Shirin Dason: Yes.
Radha Sharma: And what are some goals after you're done fellowship, where do you see yourself working?
Shirin Dason: Yeah. So I'll be joining Paul infertility, which is going to be at Yonge and Eglinton and I'm really excited. I'm looking forward to it.
Radha Sharma: Awesome.
Radha Sharma: So, as you know, our goal on the show is to chat with you and others about how they fit family planning or family building, while also balancing their career in medicine. Did you always know that you wanted to be a parent? Was that something modeled for you, or is that something that came later in life?
Shirin Dason: I was certain that I wanted to be a parent, and I think that I always envisioned myself as having kids, you know, growing up. I was always the aunt that hung out with the kids more so than anything else. I do a lot of babysitting, etc. So like I always knew kids were in my future, and I think as soon as I got married I was pretty much on that path of, you know, I'm going to get married, I'm gonna have kids, and that's how it's all gonna happen and so I don't think it was ever a question to me that I wouldn't be able to or wouldn't be successful, so infertility was definitely a surprise. But I think that you know, being in medicine or being a doctor didn't ever factor into a concept of delay for me. It was just going to be a part of life, and I was just gonna figure it out, whatever happened. And I mean, I did also grow up with my mom as a you know, full time lawyer and my dad as a doctor, and so I think I you know, I had parents that also kind of modeled that lifestyle for me. And so when I was kind of the age that I wanted to have kids, in my late twenties that was the model that I grew up with. And so it was very commonplace to me to just think I'm gonna have kids now.
Radha Sharma: I know with other guests, they've spoken about how there's no perfect time to have kids, and depending on your individual circumstances or or your ability to conceive it can vary person to person. If you feel comfortable, do you mind sharing what family planning looked like for you? Was that something that you know, as soon as you got married you were ready to go, or did you kind of have a timeline in your mind?
Shirin Dason: When I was in medical school. I actually met a colleague, a classmate of mine at the time who had 3 kids. And I remember her telling me, this is before I decided to have kids, before I was married, that, you know, she had struggled with her first 2, and then her third had come as a surprise, and she told me that, she tells everybody that basically, as soon as you're ready, just start trying, cause you never know what's gonna happen. And you don't really have the luxury of being so certain about exactly when it was gonna happen. So I will say that advice was in the back of my mind when I did start to try and I think that kind of like influenced my family planning because I kinda had a sense that I wouldn't be able to plan. And basically, as soon as it felt like in my life, like, I would be okay if I got pregnant that's when I should start trying because it wasn't gonna ever be perfect. And so I had heard stories, certainly, of other residents who had perfectly planned exactly when to have their kid, you know, in a perfect years of training like, oh, it's gonna be in PGY4 after I've finished my chiefing and like gyne-onc and all the really hard rotations. But, and I only have like the easier rotations to come back to and then I'm gonna transition into practice. And so, and you know, those people had been very fortunate to, you know, try and become pregnant very, very quickly, and achieve their kind of very predetermined goals. But I basically made the decision that I would just start trying when I would be okay with taking time off of residency. And that was pretty much like right away for me. I didn't, it never really factored in my rotations. I was just kinda like, well, whenever it happens, it happens, I will do whatever I need to do, and I'll work, and I'll do whatever it is. And so that's what we did, and I'll say that, you know, we struggled with infertility for about a year and I was fortunate to be connected to care quickly, and then we had fertility treatments, and in the end I required IVF. And so my ideal timeline, if I had one, which I'm not really sure that I did, definitely changed. And like, I know things actually ended up working out perfectly if I was thinking about my rotation schedule, or how things were structured. But, I was fortunate that I think I had the mindset that I was just gonna make whatever it was work, but I was just kind of ready, and my work schedule would figure itself out. Yeah. So that was my mentality.
Radha Sharma: Thank you for sharing again and we really do appreciate how vulnerable you've been, you know, talking to me, and I'm sure listeners will really appreciate that. When you did have children, what year of your residency did that happen around?
Shirin Dason: So I ended up being in my fourth year of residency.
Radha Sharma: And did you just have one child? Do you have multiple children now.
Shirin Dason: I have 2 kids, Rory and Beatrix. So Rory was born when I was a PGY4 and then Beatrix was born when I was a PGY6, so in my fellowship.
Radha Sharma: And when you think back to that time, or even now, as you're navigating, you know, parenthood, and also having young children, did you experience any particular challenges that you'd like to share with us?
Shirin Dason: Certainly it wasn't completely easy. I think that there were challenges, you know.
I found, for example, I think it was very easy to go on leave like it was almost like it was actually really lovely to just be like, Oh, okay, I'm going off for 9 months and then with my daughter I went off for 4 months, and so all of that part was kind of easy, I think coming back from leave, I found very stressful and challenging, because now I had to think about, you know, balancing my job and balancing my responsibilities as a parent and not just responsibilities but you know the strong desire to be around with my kids and to spend time with them but also to perform well in residency, and, you know, perform well to my own standards. So not necessarily to external standards but you know, gaining the skills that I wanted to gain, learning the knowledge that I wanted to learn and achieving the goals, I wanted to achieve while also being a present mother. And so I think that stressed me out as I was coming back because it was definitely going to be like a big life change to now balance everything together, and not just, you know, learning to be a mother while I was on leave. And so some of the challenges were definitely like arranging childcare like deciding, you know, am I going to be able to do daycare, or am I going to have to have a nanny? How are the finances going to work out for actually having that structure?
You know what life changes and lifestyle changes are we, me and my husband, both going to have to make to accommodate, you know, the financial burden of childcare, for example. And then also, you know, pick up, drop off times, who's gonna be around like making sure somebody is around every day managing each other on sick days. So if the nanny is sick or child is sick, or if, you know who is going to be able to be flexible in terms of staying home. And certainly there's a lot of flexibility that comes into that. But those were, and so kind of for somebody like me who actually likes a fair amount of structure to my day and to my work life and to my home life like I found those kind of moments stressful of like, you know, this is, you know, this person sick, and this is what I was supposed to do. But how are we going to modulate and figure all of that out together, and you know, also be present at work. So that was challenging and then, I think, you know, it really required a lot of actually just self work, like changing my own mentality, changing my own mindset, you know, things like, I’m actually somebody who likes a really tidy house, for example. And the reality is like with the hours that we both work and the kids being the age that they are, like the house actually being clean and tidy is fairly rare. And so it's kind of like working on my own sense of emotional dysregulation when I see a giant mess then, like yelling at everybody to clean up, just because I feel emotionally dysregulated by the mess. And so it's a lot of like learning about myself in parenting, and like what I find calming and what you know, my own triggers, my own regulation, etc. And so I think that was like actually one of the biggest challenges is like realizing my own idiosyncrasies, my own flaws, like really looking at myself and thinking, how am I parenting? How am I achieving all of my goals? And how is all of this going to work? Because I'm the only one that's gonna make it work if I want it to. So that's what I would say was probably, like, you know, biggest challenges, like learning about myself and learning about the things that I needed to change, to make it all work.
Radha Sharma: It sounds like there was a lot of, and there's still probably, a lot of transition and things that aren't quite in your control when you're so used to them being in your control. And I think for a lot of medical learners, regardless of what stage they're in, can probably resonate with that feeling of needing to have control all the time. So, how did you kind of navigate, what were your strategies to pull yourself together, I guess, during moments of stress that you were going through?
Shirin Dason: There were a lot of things. One is recognizing my support systems. So you know, my spouse is a huge support system for me, and he has just always been the type of person who, you know, steps up when he needs to step up. He takes care of me immensely, but he also is like a big help at home, and so, realizing that I have that support, and utilizing that support to the best that I needed, that I needed to in the moments I needed to and other support systems like, I have a family who's an hour away that we use. You know, my mentors, that I reach out to when I need help, my friends, that I reach out to so like recognizing that I have a lot of support when I'm stressed, or when there's things going on. And I'll also just share that other than just having kids, my son also actually had to undergo several surgeries when he was first born, and had a medical issue, and had all sorts of things going on. And so that part was also really stressful. And again, like just relying on my support system, was like extremely important, and like I continued to rely on them during those kind of like very stressful times when you're trying to balance childcare and balance the kind of anxieties surrounding raising a kid and making sure they’re healthy to whatever that term means. And then, two, like recognizing myself, and, like, you know, kind of having that burnout meter, or that regulation meter of when are things overwhelming? How am I feeling? Am I taking on too much? What do I need to cut back? When do I need to take time for myself? When do I need to take time to be with my family? When do I need to take time to do my work and like realizing that saying no is not that bad, you know, like being comfortable, saying you know I can't make it to that meeting, because it's during dinner time with my family, and that's important to me, and that's what I'm going to. And you know the momentary annoyance of everybody is probably not that big of a deal, and also probably in my head and I think it's also taught me, like those types of moments have also taught me to be accepting and compassionate for other people in the same situation. Like I think I already was like to be fair, but I do also think, like recognizing that everybody has lives to live and like, whatever their reason for not being present is like perfectly valid just as mine are. You know, just saying that you're too busy, and you have too much going on and like you can't do whatever it is you need to do is like perfectly fine, both for you and for other people. So that is like probably number 2, like just saying no more, and recognizing when I need moments to myself or etc., like really reflecting on when my plate is too full and what to take off, and what not to. And then three, recognizing what brings me back to my status quo. So when I am, you know, feeling that way, when things are too much, or work is too much, or life is too much like. What is it that I can find regulation in and at different times, it's different things. So for me, you know, I practice a lot of mindfulness. I listen to podcasts, I read books, I watch trash TV and there's a moment for each of those things for me, and I can, you know, kind of tune in and figure out what it is I need them like, for example, if I have studied too much, and I've been reading many, many papers all day, then, like, I need to give my brain a rest, and I need to, you know watch that new show on Netflix for a couple of hours to just like get out of that mindset. And so I think it was a lot of like recognizing what I need when I'm feeling that kind of stress, or you know, when I feel like, oh, I haven't been spending a lot like the last 2 weeks. I've been working a lot, feel like I haven't been spending a lot of time with my kids, for example, you know, you know, evenings I have a short period of time before they go to bed, etc. And so, you know, recognizing like, okay, well, we have this upcoming weekend and what can I do to find moments of connection with them and kind of address that feeling of stress and anxiety that I have over not spending enough time with them. And like what will like, allow me to feel connected to them. And so I think that kind of third part is like just getting to know, like, how you can remedy those moments of stress, and that for yourself, like what will be the thing that will get you back to your midline?
Radha Sharma: It sounds like you have a really good support system at home and ways to kind of self regulate which is so important. I feel like at all stages of medicine, because it's such a long and arduous process that it sounds like those things are critical.
Radha Sharma: I know you mentioned that you had mentors and I'm just curious, is there anyone that you'd like to shout out on today's episode that has been kind of, maybe a point of contact for you when you have questions about, you know, maybe parenting, but also in your career?
Shirin Dason: Yeah, I mean, I have a few mentors that have been like very important to me over the last few years like Mara Sobel is an OB/GYN at Mount Sinai, who was always like very, very supportive of me as a trainee, and also like did a lot of like she has 4 kids, and she does a lot research and education and is very kind. And so I always found her to be very inspiring. Similarly, Crystal Chan was my mentor in REI. Like both of them, I worked very closely with on research, but both of them had very full personal lives with their family, and that I found to be very inspiring, like, just kind of space for both and they're also just like very kind down to Earth people who I always felt respected by, and I think that was like a really important piece for me with my mentors, like that feeling of kind of like mutual respect, because I have a lot of admiration for many people, but kind of like that feeling of like oh, they like respect me, too, like that is kind of that special feeling of like Oh, like I matter to somebody. And certainly, like Andrea Simpson has been a big support in all of this project, and has been a very important mentor for me for very similar reasons, and also just like, has really encouraged me to be an advocate in this area, and, like, you know, times when I doubted myself as always built me up and I think like I think that is what is important in a mentor like being able to like feel like they have like kind of a net around, you can achieve what you want to achieve. But they're kind of there to bounce ideas off of. And so those 3 people were, were definitely like, very important to me. Heather Shapiro at Mount Sinai, very important, Claire Jones, like I could just name you like. I can give you a shout of everybody over there. Everybody has been truly wonderful, Ellen Greenblatt, but like I'm just saying names. You know, Michelle Jacobson, but I just like, you know, just like inspiring women who are just like badasses at what they do, and are such great clinicians and researchers, but also really emphasized that you can have a life outside of medicine and they do. And I just like admire them. But mostly I admire them, for, like the respect and kindness that they have always shown towards me, I think.
Radha Sharma: yeah, like the reciprocated energy almost.
Shirin Dason: Yeah, exactly. That's a really nice way to put it.
Radha Sharma: And we'll also link some of the episodes of some of Shirin's mentors that she's mentioned. We have some episodes with Dr. Andrea Simpson, Dr. Crystal Chan, as well as Dr. Heather Shapiro. So we urge our listeners to also give those a listen to hear their perspectives on, you know, being parents, and then also being great clinicians.
Radha Sharma: We will shift gears a little bit to talk about your children, Rory and Beatrix. So how old are they now?
Shirin Dason: Rory is 3 and a half, and Beatrix is turning one on Saturday actually
Radha Sharma:: Happy early birthday to Beatrix from the show.
Shirin Dason: Thank you. Thank you. I can't believe she's almost one like time just flies.
Radha Sharma: What have been some of the unexpected challenges of raising an almost one year old, and I guess a toddler?
Shirin Dason: I don't think anything was like that unexpected. I knew 2 was going to be more of a challenge than one, and you know they both kind of pull you in different directions at different times, I think one part of things, was just this concept of like really giving my children a part of myself, and like making sure that they really feel connected to me and as a person and I felt like you know, I was very close with my son. I still am, but I'm very, I was very close with my son before my daughter was born, and it felt like, you know, once my daughter was born, there was almost this kind of like sadness of like, you know, he's lost some time with me like he's lost a little bit of time that I would have spent, you know solely with him, and he was, you know, the sun to my day. And now there is another little human that you know. My heart expanded, but like I didn't expand and my time didn't expand. And so it was like trying to find that balance of like giving them both what I wanted to give them, and feeling like I wasn't divided, and they were both getting attention. And I think, you know, I always like thought of myself, of having 3 or 4 children. I am not sure what will happen, but I will say that like after having 2, I almost feel like I'm not sure I want more, because I'm not sure I want to like have that feeling of division, like another child, to kind of like make sure that they feel like the love that I want to give. And there are moments when I'm turning my full attention towards one kid, and I just feel like, Oh, man! Like my other kid, I can tell like wishes or wants me to be paying attention to them. And it's like you can't. And certainly you can do group activities and things like that. But there's definitely a division in the connection. And so I think, maybe like that was one of the things that I didn't fully appreciate was going to be so challenging, or would weigh on my mind so much of am I giving them enough? And now that I've added another one like, am I giving them both enough?
Radha Sharma: Do they get along with each other, even though they probably fight over mom, I'm assuming. But do they get along for the most part?
Shirin Dason: For sure. Yeah, like, I mean, as much as siblings can get along. And I you know, I read all the books, I read all the Instagram posts, etc., like I'm trying to foster relationships like I can see, like you know my son adores Beatrix, Rory loves her. He is very cute. He's like huggy kissy, but you know, like sometimes he gets annoyed, and he like picks her up and chucks her to the other side, because, like, she's like interacting with his stuff. And like I get it, like I've been in that position. You know I'm middle kid, so I've had an older brother and a younger sister like I know that feeling on both sides and certainly those things still happen. And that's you know, I think, pretty usual like, it's a moment of frustration of this like little human being around all the time, and she also, you know, gets frustrated like being chucked or like, you know, things being taken from her when she is, you know, trying to play with them. So like I think it's very expected, like sibling dynamics. But I think the baseline is, I think they both really like each other, and, like, you know, Beatrix loves being wherever Rory is, and Rory embodies the role of big brother. You know he's very loving towards her, like taking care of her, excited about her.
Radha Sharma: What's been the best part about being a parent to Rory and Beatrix?
Shirin Dason: I'm just watching them grow honestly like it is like, I mean, I don't wanna sound cheesy, but it does kind of feel like the meaning of life to like watch, you know, a kid grow, and to know that, you know, you're a really big part of the way that they experience the world, and it gives you such a sense of purpose, you know, of like living each day and being a better person for them, so they can like, see and you can model behavior to them. And I think like, that to me, has been very meaningful like just watching them grow, seeing their mind expand but also just like seeing how they interact with the world, and knowing that like part of it is like a reflection on how you contributed to that, and like their sense of being. And I think, yeah, I find it very, very meaningful, and it's very important to me and I love that part of parenting just like having that kind of purpose.
Radha Sharma: If you had a magic wand, Shirin, and could go back and change anything about your journey thus far, would you and why?
Shirin Dason: Honestly, I don't think I would change anything. You know, I think everything that has happened in my life has kind of led me to where I am today. The good, the bad, it's like helped me to grow as a person, and I don't necessarily think there's anything that I would change, or that I like regret so much that I would fix, because I think it would change the whole trajectory, and I don't know what my life would look like now if I had done that. The only thing I will say is I think, as I think most people are, you know it's funny, because now I'm in REI. But I do think to myself like at the time that I was trying to conceive, it was really hard, like it was, it was really really tough to go through each cycle. And there is definitely a sense of desperation that sets of just wanting a child so badly and not being able to kind of achieve that. And then, like, I think I was really really sad at that time, like I just, I think and I think like, if anything, I would have realized like how sad I was and the impact it was kind of having on my life and my interactions with people like that was one thing that I think I kind of wish I had been more mindful of, or had realized, how much of an impact it was having. And I think I would have maybe sought help sooner, like I actually sought help pretty fast like and I did IVF like fairly quickly but I almost wish I had done it like even sooner, you know, then I did, and I don't think there was any like. I think I followed the right processes. I spoke to the right people. I got to the right place like I couldn't, but I almost wish I had just like known. So maybe the magic would be not having infertility and just doing IVF and getting pregnant with like the embryos that I created. Yeah, like that would be the only thing, like if I could have wished away any part of my life like maybe that part. But I will also say that being said it gave me a lot of like purpose, of like what I do and why I do it. And you know, like helping people through those moments. It's like I've experienced that. I've felt that grief. I know what it's like, and I have felt it so deeply that it helps me really connect with people. So it's not even so much that I would wish it away. It's just like, it was a really long time like that year, the year and a half, it felt like forever.
Radha Sharma: Is there any advice that you have for medical learners?
Shirin Dason: Yeah, I mean, I would say a few things. I would say know yourself as a person, and understand yourself outside of your role as a doctor, outside of your career in medicine, because it's just part of who you are. It's not all of who you are. And I think that translates into many things. I don't think it's just family planning, but I think you know it's also like if you always saw yourself traveling, you don't have to give up that part of yourself, or if you always saw yourself doing some sort of big role outside of medicine like you can achieve those goals, you just may have to reimagine what your career looks like. The medical career is not a fixed entity, despite the fact that it feels that way. Two, I think, like we have much more agency than I think we give ourselves credit for, or that we realize, I think we often feel like life is happening to us, and there's only one way to do things. We have to do it this way. We have to follow this path. We have to do all these things to get where we want to go, but I think that is almost like a falsehood which is perpetuated. And I think the world is changing. I think medicine is changing albeit slowly. But I think all of these things just come down to understanding who you are and what it is that you want out of life and medicine is just like one part of that. It is not your whole life. And three, I think it would be the advice that someone gave to me like back in medical school, which is like when you, as soon as you think you could potentially, your life could accommodate having a child in it, that's when you should start trying to conceive, because there will never be a perfect time. It'll never be like perfectly planned, either, and you may face fertility issues, and the sooner that you get started and the sooner that you know, and the sooner that you can get intervention. And the realities of fertility are biological. Fertility is not controllable. We just have this falsehood that our family plans are goals, and fertility will wait for us because we want them to wait. And we think that mind control is enough.
Radha Sharma: Yeah.
Shirin Dason: But it's unfortunately just not. And like it's just a part of health and if it's important to you then you have to figure out how it's going to fit into your biological timeline and not your career timeline. And that's just reality.
Radha Sharma: Thank you for sharing that wisdom with me and our listeners, Shirin. We really do appreciate it.
Radha Sharma: Our final question, Shirin, are you currently thriving or surviving?
Shirin Dason: Good question. I will tell you that, like one part of me, wants to tell you that it's all about mindset, and that you know, I think if I say I'm thriving then I am. But this week has been so busy, and I am so exhausted that I feel like I am just surviving right now, like I just feel like I am trying to get through to, you know, the next day and the next weekend, which is the birthday party. And so I do like, I really feel like you know what is going on in your life, and how things go like really influences your answer to that question, I would say, like overall, I truly feel I am thriving like I'm very, very happy with everything in my life. But there are sometimes, like the last couple of weeks when you're just working all the time, and you feel like you're never home, and I will tell you I'm also studying for like a Royal College exam in October, so it doesn't ever feel like I have free time, because I'm constantly doing something, or I'm constantly trying to like, stay on top of everything that right now, in this moment I feel like I'm just surviving.
Radha Sharma: We love the honest and raw response Shirin and thank you for sharing your story with us. This concludes episode 21. This is the final episode of season 1. We want to give you another thank you, Shirin. It was just, always great to chat with you, and I've learned so much through the series and from your mentorship especially. You can find Dr. Dason's contact information in the notes from today's show.
Radha Sharma: This is Shirin and Radha signing off.