An American doctor tried splitting her time between the US and her dream city of Paris. When that got too grueling, she decided to leverage emerging telemedicine technology to craft the perfect work/life balance.
Jayne Lee, MD, has the best of both worlds. And she doesn’t even have to leave home to make it happen.
That’s because Lee, national medical director at Eagle Hospital Physicians, a full-service physician services agency for hospitalist and telemedicine jobs, lives in Paris but routinely sees patients in the US.
In Paris? You read that correctly. Thanks to the advancements in telemedicine, Lee became the first physician in Eagle Hospital’s tele-hospitalist program. Thus she is able to enjoy her City of Lights lifestyle while successfully practicing medicine in the US.
“The first time I came to Paris I was a medical student, and I fell in love with the city,” Lee says. “I wanted to explore a world that I wasn’t familiar with. I wanted to try something out of my comfort zone.”
Heck of a Commute
To say that Lee paid her dues in order to live the life she desired is putting it mildly. Early in her career she split her time between Paris and the US, spending 10-12 days each month as an attending physician working for Eagle Hospital Physicians in Dallas while living in a hotel near the hospital. Then she would return to Paris for several weeks where she had rented an apartment.
This was culture shock of the first magnitude.
“I got a huge culture shock each time I went from the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris to an airport in North Carolina, where obviously the food is different, the culture is different, and the people are dressed differently,” Lee recalls. “That was a big change for me.”
Lee adapted each time she returned to the US by throwing herself into work mode.
“I was there to take care of patients, to do my job,” she explains. “And when I went back to France, I was there to play. I was there to spend time with my friends and enjoy the city. I learned to separate the two cultures by setting my mindset into whatever environment I was in.”
But that doesn’t mean it was easy. The more time Lee spent in Paris, the more separation anxiety she experienced. While she was working in a US hospital 24/7, her friends were back in Paris having fun. She felt like she was missing out on a life.
“But, I knew that I had to do my job.”
In 2010, Lee added Eagle Telemedicine to her work, and by 2011 it dominated her schedule. By 2013 when she became pregnant, she stopped commuting entirely.
Eagle Hospital Physicians has spearheaded the use of robotic telemedicine, enabling Lee to “see” patients from across the Atlantic. And when she was first introduced to the aspect of working with a robot long distance, she was cautiously intrigued.
“At first I was like, how can you do this from a distance? That’s crazy,” Lee recalls thinking. “Because everything we’re taught in medical school is being at the patient’s bedside. I didn’t think it could work out at the time, but it was such a neat concept.”
Lee says that it was “definitely different” the first time she got to use the robot and could see patients. She couldn’t put her hands on the patient, and she wasn’t able to use a stethoscope.
“You rely a lot on a nurse,” she says. “You’re using the robot stethoscope to listen. And because of technology, the sound quality is different than with your own stethoscope. So you really have to adapt your ears and philosophy. That was one of the biggest challenges.”
There’s also a level of trust Lee had to develop as she relied on the on-site nurses. Typically, nurses leave the room when a physician meets with a patient, so this was an adjustment on both sides.
“At first there was a lot of resistance because it was a huge change,” Lee recalls. “But they got used to it, and then you start building a relationship. And for the doctor on the telemedicine side, you have to be very diplomatic and treat the nurse with respect. Without them, this technology would not be possible.”
I Love Paris
The thrill of living in the City of Lights has not diminished for Lee, who was born and raised in Flint, MI. She calls Paris “an amazing city” where a person can do anything they want. And as a runner living in a city that is so centrally located in Europe, Lee is able to take part in half-marathons all around Europe.
“Spain is only a couple of hours away,” she says. “Italy is only a couple of hours away. All of the European cities are so close, so I’m trying to take advantage and travel as much as I can.”
Now married with a young daughter, Lee, who is fluent in French, also enjoys exploring Paris and taking advantage of many of the city’s fine restaurants.
“I live close to the Eiffel Tower, and I go to the park there a lot with my daughter, or take my dog for a walk there,” she says. “And just like all Parisians, I like to have a drink of wine or whatever and people watch, which is kind of what all Parisians do.”
Lee says that telemedicine is a lifestyle choice; a choice that many physicians choose not to make because they prefer working in a hospital setting. And it comes with its share of challenges, including having to set clear boundaries between work and spending time with family.
“My daughter is in daycare most times when I’m working,” Lee says. “But on the weekends she’s at home, and I play with her in between seeing patients. But obviously, there have been times when I’m at home and I haven’t left my desk in 12 hours. So, it’s different, and it’s a choice you make.”
But the rewards, Lee says, are still just as powerful.
“As a doctor, you do your best to take care of the patient,” she says. “And to see the patient’s appreciation for the hard work that you do—to me, that’s the most rewarding part of my job. And I would say it doesn’t change by being a tele-hospitalist.”