We had the good fortune of connecting with Kelly Lee and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kelly, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
My work life balance has changed significantly over time beginning as a young, married professional without children. I worked 60-80 hours a week without scheduled vacation or mental health days. I was successful professionally but personally, I was drained and suffered physically and emotionally.
When I had our son a few years later, I tried to maintain a similar work schedule but quickly realized that this was not feasible. I even thought about quitting my job so that I can be a better mother and wife. My husband convinced me that this would ultimately make me unhappy in the long run. I made changes in my daily schedule to allow me to spend more time with my family and started scheduling vacations ahead of time. My quality of life was better but I still struggled with finding that “balance”.
About 2 years ago, my life was changed forever that would define how I lived my life. I was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia and had to fight for my life. I was immediately hospitalized and spent the next month receiving chemotherapy. I had to abandon all teaching and clinical activities and cancel all travel engagements. I was told that I had to find a donor for a bone marrow transplant; otherwise my prognosis was poor. While I was trying to find a donor match, our family was hit with another devastating news. My husband was diagnosed with brain cancer and we were told that he had 6 months to live.
During the last 2 years, I was forced to re-evaluate my work life balance. I quickly realized that my health and family were the most important aspects of my life and everything else was trivial. My own illness stopped me in my tracks and I was forced to take a break from everything. It allowed to evaluate my own health, my family and my career in a holistic sense. What were my professional and personal goals in life? What made me happy and what was I doing simply out of obligation or guilt? I also realized that much of what I considered “critical” could be taken care of by others or be completed later. (or not even done). But I also realized that nothing disastrous happened due to me taking a break. I was also allowed to spend more time with my husband who needed me emotionally and physically. I am grateful that my own diagnosis and forced time away from work allowed me to be at home with my family.
Fortunately, I was able to find a donor for a bone marrow transplant and I’ll be celebrating my 2 year birthday in May. Unfortunately, my husband lost his battle with cancer and passed away on Christmas Day. What I have learned through the celebrations of obtaining a “new life” and the tragedy of losing my soulmate is that you only get the life you are dealt and you get to choose how you want to live. We often think that our work is what defines us – until we are forced to think otherwise. Now, I live life truly to the “fullest”, spending my free time with our son, enjoy hobbies, exercise regularly and take vacations and mental health days as often as possible. I have also realized that by being away from work and focusing on my physical and mental health, I was able to fully appreciate how much I enjoy my work as well. The greatest lesson from my journey over the past 2 years is that I do not have to try to achieve a work life balance – instead, I enjoy every day as if it were my last and do the work that I love.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I received a Bachelor of Sciences degree in Biology from UCLA, a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from UCSF and a Master of Advanced Sciences degree in Clinical Research from UCSD. I also completed a PGY1 residency and a 2-year fellowship in Behavioral Health Sciences from UCSF. I am proud to be a board-certified psychiatric pharmacist and provide medication management for patients with mental health disorders. While my training journey has not been easy, I am honored to serve those who have unmet mental health needs and aid them in their recovery. I am also proud to be a pharmacy educator and enjoy training and mentoring future pharmacists who will shape our profession for the decades to come. Finally, I am dedicated to conducting research in depression, suicide and burnout so that we can discover new ways to combat these disorders.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
San Diego is described as one of the finest cities in the U.S. There is so much to see and do in our city but here is an itinerary for those who have never been to the city:
Day 1: Balboa Park where you can stroll along the park and visit one of the 17 museums (e.g. San Diego Air & Space Museum, Natural History Museum) and even the famous San Diego Zoo. You can enjoy a nice brunch at the Prado Restaurant as well.
Day 2: Coronado – you can cross the famous Coronado Bridge and travel to the historic Hotel del Coronado and visit their famous weekend brunches at the Crown Room. You can sit on the white sandy beaches in front of the hotel and enjoy the view.
Day 3: La Jolla Beach – this is one of the famous tourist beaches to visit where you can shop and eat in the village and take in the beautiful beaches. You can also see the sea lions at the edge of the coast and walk along the La Jolla Cove. There’s also a Children’s Pool that is popular among families. The Birch Aquarium is also a popular museum located next to UCSD and La Jolla.
Day 4: Downtown/Marina: You can spend the day visiting the ships along the marina including the USS Midway Museum. Afterwards, you can walk over to the Gas Lamp District where restaurants, bars and entertainment attract visitors at nighttime. Little Italy is also a popular district where you can sample authentic Italian food and desserts.
Day 5: It’s hard to pick just one area for the last day in San Diego but here are some of my favorite spots that have beautiful beaches and excellent restaurants: Del Mar, Encinitas, Cardiff and Carlsbad. You can also easily drive up Pacific Coast Highway and pass through all of these towns and take in the breathtaking views.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My entire pharmacy family at UCSD, members of my fantasy football league (Cat Fight League), my tennis league friends, my best friends (Jen and Tina) and my family.