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Keeping an eye on work-life balance

By Kaelanne Jordan

Balance seems to be the best word to characterise Dr Greer Iton-Chams life. Like many, Covid-19 has created a slew of new challenges and changes for the 35-year-old ophthalmologist in training.

“It forced me to make a decision that, without the pandemic, I’m quite sure I would have never made…” Dr Iton-Chams told Catholic News.

Two weeks before the nationwide pandemic, Dr Iton-Chams was faced with the “difficult decision” to leave her job at Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex (EWMSC), to assume duties for the new “boss” in her life—son Ezzo Jonah Chams.

“…I never had to give priority about anything but work before. Now I had a baby that took precedence…And it was just a complete switch up…. I went from someone who went from working at the hospital for the last 11 years constantly on call to now being at home full-time, not earning. Covid definitely affected me in that way, but I don’t regret my decision. I get to spend all the time with my son,” Dr Iton-Chams shared.

When she is not “non-stop running” behind her 18-month baby, she works part-time for a private ophthalmologist office, which allows her to maintain the “right fit” of work-life balance.

And why ophthalmology (a branch of medicine and surgery that deals with the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the eye)?

“Literally since the first day of ophthalmology rotation I liked it and felt drawn to it. It was a nice mix between adult and children, between medicine and surgery and can give you a balanced lifestyle to raise a family…. It was the right fit from the very beginning,” Dr Iton-Chams explained.

She recalled that during medical school, most of her peers found ophthalmology to be quite “boring”. This, however, did not deter her from pursuing the field. “My first summer job was at an ophthalmology office… it’s just what I’ve always been drawn to,” she asserted.

So what was it like as a medical doctor working during a pandemic? Well, Dr Iton-Chams revealed the only change was a decrease in patients at the clinic due to Covid-19 regulations.

She clarified that while her job requires her to be in close contact as she assesses patients’ eyes, she was not required to treat or care for Covid patients. She mentioned that in most cases, appointments had to be rescheduled, and the doctors adapted using a balance of telemedicine and in-patient care.

In the midst of navigating her two passions—motherhood and a professional life, Dr Iton-Chams maintained that her faith has been a great source of comfort in “different ways”.

“Faith teaches you to treat people with respect, the way you would like to be treated…I hope I did that when I treated your son by the way,” she added, when I reminded her she treated my then five-year-old son at EWMSC for Conjunctivitis.

“It teaches me to be empathetic with my patients, to remember why I’m doing it. Ever since I got introduced to the Opus Dei work which is basically the whole message of sanctifying your ordinary life, living out the will of God in your mundane activities of work… I think that definitely shifted how I practice as well,” Dr Iton-Chams explained.


Beauty pageants

Her experience as a finalist and favourite in the 2011 Miss Trinidad and Tobago Universe and as the 2013 Miss Asia Pacific World Trinidad and Tobago competition was also a point of discussion.

“I was a doctor then too,” she said laughing. “And I think at the time as well, you didn’t really have doctors going up for beauty pageants. I heard a couple of comments ‘Why is she doing that, she is a doctor.’ I can do both. And anytime anything happened, anyone fell, obviously they came to me,” she chuckled.

Dr Iton-Chams shared that though at the age of 10, she always loved pageants and dreamt of becoming Miss Universe like Miss T&T Universe 1995, Arlene Peterkin and Miss Universe 1998, Wendy Fitzwilliam, successfully completing medical school was ultimately her first goal.

Looking back on her experience, Dr Iton-Chams underscored she is always excited and proud to talk about her time in the competition.

“While it did not turn out the way I wanted it to turn out, I learned a lot from that experience. I grew as a woman. There are lessons I took away from the pageant I still took today…. there are certain things in terms of how you speak to people, how to carry myself in situations … because they were a part of that training. The training made me a lot more comfortable with initiating conversations as I might not have been able before,” she said.

To this end, Dr Iton-Chams dismissed the concept that pageants are merely a platform for women to parade their bodies in swimsuits and gowns, adding that there is a lot of discipline and hard work involved.

On the day of the interview, August 26, Dr Iton-Chams celebrated her fourth wedding anniversary with husband Fayez.

Of the couples’ anniversary plans, she explained that due to Covid-19 restrictions, they won’t be able to celebrate in a “typical fashion”.

She did, however, share plans for a quiet celebration over dinner.

Did you know…

  • Diabetic eye diseases, glaucoma and cataract; are some common eye problems affecting persons locally.
  • In the same way that you cannot prevent cataracts, you also cannot reverse their formation. However, cataracts can be easily removed with surgery.
  • With early detection, glaucoma can be controlled through medications or surgery but there is no cure for glaucoma.