Life Changing Moments: Me Time, with Dr. Joel Waxman

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Dr. Joel Waxman understands that having a fulfilling life involves more than just seeing as many patients as possible. Since the beginning of his medical career, Dr. Waxman has made time for his family, friends, and himself.  While so many of his peers missed out on important family life events, Dr. Waxman was present for every important milestone in his children’s early lives. But the decision to do this was intentional, and came with a little bit of sacrifice.

And, if you feel you need help bringing balance to your life, speaking with a coach may help. Reach out to

MD Coaches, LLC provides leadership and executive coaching for physicians by physicians to overcome burnout, transition throughout your career, develop as a leader or meet your individual goals. Remember, you are not in this alone. Reach out to us today!

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Joel Waxman, MD is an Assistant Clinical Professor at the Department of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Kansas School of Medicine in Kansas City, Kansas. He is a graduate of the University of Kansas School of Medicine, with residency at Washington University. He was the Chief Resident from 1985 through 1986. He previously maintained a General ENT practice in Springfield, Missouri and rural Kansas areas. Joel is a member of the Kansas City Clas Guild, is a Johnson County Extension Master Gardener, and plays Baritone Sax with the Johnson County New Horizons Band. Joel has been married to his wife Susan since 1979, has three children, two daughters-in-law, and 2 grandchildren.

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Access the Show Transcript Here


[0:00] That was my day that worked out. It was me time, because there’s kid time, family time, wife time, work time, but I needed me time.
There are times in our lives that change the way we see the world.
Navigating these challenges can take insight, trusted confidants, or even a coach.
Let’s explore those moments.
In this companion podcast to Rx for Success, we will discover ways to learn and write our own success stories together.
I’m Dr. Dale Waxman, a physician coach with MD Coaches, and this is Life-Changing Moments.
The Charter on Physician Well-Being was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2018.

[0:52] This document provides a blueprint for addressing the significant and mounting problem of physician dissatisfaction, unwellness, and burnout.
Clearly, there are organizational and community contributors to the dis-ease that physicians are experiencing, and this charter addresses those.
The third component, and perhaps the most elusive, is interpersonal and individual commitments to well-being.
And within that is the fundamental concept of practicing and promoting self-care.
I say elusive because, number one, it certainly eluded me in my career, and number two, it very certainly eludes many of my coaching clients.
My guest today has, in my opinion, excelled at intentionally attending to self-care.
Joel Waxman is an otolaryngologist currently serving as an associate clinical professor of Otolaryngology at the University of Kansas School of Medicine.
He’s been in various forms of private practice for over 37 years, first in the Springfield, Missouri area and then in the Kansas City area.

[2:03] If his last name sounds familiar, it is because Joel is one of my big brothers.
He’s been a mentor and a guide for me as I navigated pre-med and med school and continues to be an inspiration about how to live a full and connected life.
I invited Joel on to this podcast because he, really more than any other physician that I know, successfully blends a meaningful work life with a meaningful non-work life.

[2:31] As you’ll hear, in his non-work life, Joel prioritizes family as well as numerous hobbies.
Joel, welcome to Life-Changing Moments.
Hello there. it.

[2:43] It’s good to have you. So we’re doing this over the recording podcast.
We’re not in the same room, but it’s good to see you. So I’d like to just start, you know, for our listener, just a recap of your career, just your practice, your practice career, and then what your current situation is.

[3:02] Okay. Well, after completing residency, I took a position at a multi-specialty clinic in Springfield, and that was quickly bought up by hospital systems and I was there for 23 years. I left there when my last child graduated high school. It was actually turning into a toxic practice so it was time to leave for my mental health and other reasons at that time. I found a position in rural Kansas in Ottawa, Kansas, where I did outreach in several different other communities in Kansas.
That kind of fell apart for a lot of different reasons, and then I did some locum tenens around the Kansas City area, and then a position to open up for just, a part-time office otology, ear, nose, and throat practice at the University of Kansas and so that’s what I’ve been doing now for the last six, seven years.
Great, thank you for the recap and just you know also since we’re talking about self-care, tell us a little bit about your family.
Oh well, we’ve been married 44 years and I have three children. The oldest is an an attorney in Tulsa and with his wife.

[4:27] We have two grandchildren down there.
And then son number two recently moved to Denver and he and his wife, they just have.
One who’s now six months, little girl, and then my daughter Molly is the last one in town and she’s an ER nurse at the University of Kansas.
Yeah, the reason I brought that up because maybe we’ll get into it. I know children and grandchildren were very high priority for you.
They still are very high priority for you.
And I’m guessing that some of our listeners would want to know how did you do that with very busy otolaryngology career as well.
We’ll get into that in just a bit.

[5:06] But I want to get to, you know, I think probably people are intrigued when I said some of the things I said in the introduction.
Let’s just sort of get right into it. Can you list for the audience some of your interests that are outside of medicine and outside the family?
Well, I’ve been interested in food insecurity for a long time.
While in Springfield, I started a community garden and won some awards.
I’ve also, in Springfield, I started or helped start up a physician or medically oriented swing band.
I play baritone saxophone, so we had 17-member band and singer.
That’s still going after I left. I started doing pottery while in med school because I got tired of looking at microscope slides and needed to do something else with that.
So those are my three biggies. Yeah, and those are three biggies.
Can you say something about the, you know, like about how much percentage of your, you know, a week time has been devoted to those.

[6:16] Well, you know, again, throughout career, you know, there was always family things.
So some things took precedence over others. And certainly the kids did.
You know, if there was an event where they had to do something or I had to skip one of.

[6:29] The other things, that was, you know, took priority.
You know, I was the obligate soccer coach for a couple of the kids.
I helped at the at the Boy Scout troop.
You know, those kind of things were necessary also.
So, I sort of dedicated, you know, what night was what? Band night when I was in Springfield was Monday night.
Thursdays was pottery. And then when we started up the garden, once the kids were a little bit older, that was weekends and maybe another day in the week.
Yeah, so you, so let’s just sort of take one at a time. How did you get interested in pottery? You mentioned you needed to do something else, but…
Yeah, I mean, you know, med school was kind of grinding. I call myself a triathlete because I tried running and I tried some other thing and wasn’t really very good at it. So I needed something else physical or just something different to do. And they offered a course at one of the free university settings here. And I said, Well, let me go try that. And then I did that for about a year or so until major clinical studies took over at med school. So that was kind of fun while I was in med school and then during residency obviously a lot of things changed.

[7:43] But then once I got out of residency I started taking classes again about the second or third year when I got into practice. Yeah and so I’m imagining you know you’re out of residency, you’re early in practice and I know you because I know you, but you had a couple of small kids at at the time, you decided, okay, I’m just gonna go ahead and take classes and get back into this.
Say more about that, because there’s different things tugging for your time at those times.

[8:11] Yeah, long story short on that was, I needed to do something and the kids were keeping me busy doing different things, but I still felt personally I needed me time.
And so, totally separating a couple hours a week where I could focus just me and that was a nice outlet and it worked out one evening a week, whatever it was, seemed to work out well that I could, you know, not have practice. But, you know, with switching call schedule, sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. But, you know, that was my day that that worked out.
It was me time because there’s, you know, there’s kid time, family time, wife time, work time, but I needed me time.

[9:01] Hi, I’m Rhonda Crowe, founder and CEO for MD Coaches. Here on Rx for Success, We interview a lot of great medical professionals on how they grew their careers, how they overcame challenges, and how they handle day-to-day work. I really hope you’re getting a lot of great information. But if you’re looking for an answer to a specific problem, management or administration challenge, or if you’re feeling just a bit burnt out, like maybe you chose the wrong career, well then there’s a faster way to get the help you need. No, No, it’s not counseling, it’s coaching.
Rx for Success is produced by MD Coaches, a team of physicians who have been where you are.
I know you’re used to going it alone, but you don’t have to.
Get the support you need today.
Visit us at to schedule your complimentary consultation.
Again, that’s because you’re not in this alone.

[10:03] We’ll get back to our interview in just a moment, but right now, I want to tell you a little bit about Physician Outlook.
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And Prescription for Success listeners can get three months free when you enter our promo code RX for success and select the monthly option at checkout. That’s a really great deal on this stunning publication. And now let’s get back to today’s interview.

[11:12] I’m imagining that some listeners are aware that they need me time, but they don’t necessarily feel empowered to request it, to get it, to actually create a time for that.
What enabled you to say, I’m doing this?
Well, the big thing was about my third, fourth year in practice, Desert Storm happened.

[11:39] And I was in a two, three-man practice, it was two men at that time, and my partner got called up basically the day my daughter was born.
And so I was suddenly running a two-man practice all by myself.
I was sharing call with another group, and it went from quickly…
They had some other disasters in their thing, and quickly went to… Katie barred the door, I was in the office almost every day of the week, and on call every other weekend.
And when my partner finally got back, I said, I need a whole day off and before that it was just a half.
Everybody in the multi-specialty group took a half a day, which meant you left at 2 or 3 o’clock.
So I started taking a whole day off and everybody goes, you can’t do that and they go, yeah, okay, watch me.
I don’t care. So Thursdays when she was younger was me and Molly time.
Then when she started school, preschool, then there was a welcome void.
And so, you know, that was my day. Thursday was my day. And so, throughout really the last 30 years, Thursday’s been pottery day. Yeah. So, it really, the gift of Desert Storm was.

[12:57] You’re way over busy. And then when your partner got back, said, I really missed out on some me time. I need, I absolutely have to have that in order for my own, I’m putting words in in your mouth, but my own sanity.
And also I didn’t see my daughter almost for six months. So until she started preschool, every Thursday was me and Molly day.
This is like not an option, this is what I’m doing.
Yeah, I just needed it, no more, yeah. Yeah, it sounds like there wasn’t any pushback when you said this is what I’m doing.
No. That’s great.

[13:32] Not that I remember, I just said, well, you know, you’re not gonna make as much money.
And I said, you know, I don’t care. Yeah.
I’ll make my quote, whatever they want, you know, I’ll get there.
Thursdays is my day. Yeah, I just want to pause there because a lot of people are driven by the money and in this day and age when there’s productivity kind of issues, it’s really refreshing to hear more voices around. This is one way that I balance this is like, okay, I’m not making quite as much, but it’s enough. It’s enough for me and my family. Yeah. Yeah. And what about family support for you to do your pottery nights on Thursday nights? No, it was great.
And actually, Susan, when I was in Springfield, they were at the art museum and she kind of found them.
And then that fell apart, but the people that were giving the lessons at the art museum, came back to Springfield and they had a showing at an art fair and they said they’re opening up a studio and starting lessons.
So actually, Susan found it for me.
So there’s a lot of support there. Yeah. So she said, hey, how about this?
For me, I was so entrenched in my hobbies that I was a little bit blinded to how bad things were in Springfield.
I didn’t really wanna leave.

[14:51] I wanted to leave the practice, but I enjoyed all my other things in Springfield, so there was conflict on leaving stuff.
So with my wife’s support, is that you’ll be able to find stuff in Kansas City, and certainly I have.
Yeah, so let’s talk about some of those other things, because we kind of went by it quickly, but you were a founder of a swing band.
And that was a big, can you say just a little bit about that?
How that came together? Because one of the reasons I’m bringing that up, a lot of physicians have a background in music, having played a musical instrument or voice, and a lot of them have let that go dormant because of medical training and everything.
But you guys decided not to let it go dormant.
Yeah, well, it was sort of an office or holiday party, and a bunch of us, about half a dozen of us, got together and played just some goofy songs, and the nurses kind of did can-can dance and stuff like that.
And we said, you want to keep that together?
And so then we opened it up to the community and got somebody from the local university to be a conductor.
And since then, it’s been going on 20 plus years. It’s a 501-something-something not-for-profit foundation.
We did fundraisers. In the 20 years I was there, raised over half a million dollars and nursing scholarships and stuff like that.

[16:14] So it’s still going. And the thing was, you know, we knew that some people could make it to practice because it’s mostly doctors and other allied medical people. So sometimes you had two trumpets and sometimes you had four trumpets. And, you know, that’s the way it worked, you know.
Yeah, that’s great. And then the other one that you were very involved with, you talked about long-time interest in food insecurity and gardening and raising crops for food banks is a big piece of what you do as well.
Well, you and Dad always had a garden and we tried growing stuff from time to time.
And then our congregation in Springfield moved from the city to out the country and had several acres so I started a community garden there.
Coming back to the Kansas City area again with my wife’s support, she found something for me to do. I am now an Extension Master Gardener and I am co-captain of one of the vegetable gardens at one of the community or one.

[17:23] Of the gardens that we do and then I work in some of the other gardens. Then, And then I also volunteer for a group that goes around to farmer’s fields and harvesters after the harvest, and then lately I’ve been going to farmer’s markets at the end of the day and collecting stuff and taking it to pantries.
Yeah, that’s great. And I just want to highlight that you’re doing it and you’re living it, and you’re not doing it because the evidence says this, but the evidence says that when you’re involved in those kind of activities, it really leads to personal well-being for everybody, not just physicians, but when we’re involved in caring for others and caring for the community.
But you’ve been long interested in that.
And then as far as the music goes, there’s a national or international thing called New Horizons.
Now it’s based out of the county community centers, something like that.
And so it’s an over-50s organization where we have, you know, just play band music and our conductor is out of the conservatory and they bring the students over and they practice conducting with us and stuff like that.

[18:37] So that’s kind of fun. I have a couple of questions that may seem a little odd, but I want you to think about that.
If you think about all these outside, these interests that you’ve had over the years, How would you say that those either inform or support your work life?
Well, there’s separation of one and the other. The other is relaxation and stuff like that.
I’ve advised, now I’m in the area where sometimes I get to talk to medical students and residents.
And before that, I talked to my kids and other people.

[19:11] Who would bother to listen to me while they’re in their studies.
But it’s sort of like, you need that me time, whatever it is.
And when you’re busy doing something, you actually start thinking or planning for that two-hour break or that three-hour break.
And so in the middle of something, and I’ll look at something and I go, oh, well, that would be an interesting shape to make in pottery.
Or you listen to some music and say, well, I wonder if I could do that.
Or you talk to people about gardening in the middle of office, sit there and chit-chat about their plants at their house or different things like that.
It adds to it because I have the luxury that most people don’t have.
I’m a shift worker, I’m not on the assembly line where I have to peel everybody off.
I get paid for my time only per shift.
So I can spend a little more time with people, I can get to know them, and we get to chit-chat about what interests them or what interests me.
I think that’s how it adds, because one, I feel like I’m a more rounded person, I can talk to people about a lot of things.
When I was in Springfield, there’s a lot of farmers.
And so you say, well, how’d your soybeans go? Well, there’s too much for this, and I go, oh yeah.

[20:35] And one time I had to give a presentation to a food insecurity group, and it was sponsored by a church group, and I related trying to grow a garden with the seven plagues, you know.
And we didn’t kill any children, but we certainly had pestilence and flood and everything else.

[20:54] So, you knew your audience. Yeah. Yeah, that’s great.
Well, you kind of answered my next question, which was, you know, I asked you before how how do outside interests support your work, but how does work influence your hobbies?
And it’s kind of seamless for you.
It’s really seamless. Yeah, I think so. I mean, because I’m being involved in a lot of things, I’m around a lot of creative people. And everybody who seems to be on that spectrum of musicians, artists, whatever, they sort of view life a little bit differently than other people. You know what I mean?
In doing so, I kind of, you know, look for inspirations for different things.
Or, you know, like I said, talking with gardens, you know, I don’t know that much.
And so we’ll talk to someone and say, oh, well, how about this and that area?

[21:42] And so, yeah, it goes back and forth. Yeah, because I was hearing you say, I get some ideas about gardening for my patients, but also while I’m actually doing some of these hobbies, you’re aware that that me time helps you be a more centered physician to hear patient stories.
I think so. Yeah, yeah, I think so too. And then you pick up the lingo, like there’s some of the things that I do where, you know, I’m like, I’m tweeting somebody’s horrible ear infection and we use a powder and you just kind of blow it in there.
And I said, well, you know, just a little crop dusting. You know, some of the people know what I’m talking about.
Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. That’s awesome. Well, my final question for you, and then of course you can add anything else you’d like.
You know, the main audience for this podcast are physicians and other healthcare professionals.
What advice do you have for them who may have become so entrenched in work that they forgot that there are other things in life? Well, I think the one thing is, you know, see what your interests are. What did interest you in the past? You know, I think the five of us brothers, we were all thrown into music at one time. I think I’m the only one that still is, because you know that kind of interests me and I just said you know I needed to to do something in the same thing with pottery is to find.

[23:11] What are your interests? This band that I’m in now, there’s people that have done music their whole life and other people always wanted to and just decided, hey, I always wanted to play trombone, so let me go learn how to play trombone.
And then there’s a bunch who, you know, had a 20, 30 year break and they said, oh, here’s a time.
And I think you just have to say, okay, here it is. This is my time for me and what interests me.
There’s some active searching, both what are the things and then to look for the resources, because there’s plenty of resources.
For me, doing something physical, I think, is also good, because whether I’m out chopping weeds or planting something in the garden, you’re totally focused on that rather than other stuff.
The same thing with pottery, when you get that big wad of mud in the middle of the wheel that’s wiggling back and forth. If you can get it where it’s not wiggling, that’s called centering.
So you’re totally focused on that. But there’s days when I can’t do that. So I know that.

[24:18] Internally, something’s not right. And so that day, I’m not going to work on the wheel, because there’s too much happening. So I think you just actively have to look for something.
And it may not be the first thing that you do. You say, well, I tried that. That didn’t work and we try something else.
Yeah, I’m hearing actively look for something and even kind of come back to maybe something that was there before. But the other thing that you mentioned before, and you didn’t use the word, but my word, is really be intentional about it, be intentional about me time.
And to say, this is what I need to do. I mean, it’s very, very fundamental for you.
So it may not necessarily come out as advice from you, but it’s just who you are.
It’s like, this is me, this is what I need for me.
And so I turn that into, the directive then is to really be intentional about that, and you’ve done that.
Yeah, well I think perhaps some people may be hesitant to take away from other stuff, but the people that count, so well, I need you at home, I need you at this, you can balance some of that.
And there’s ways of saying, well, you know, can I just…

[25:32] Not can I but you know, I need X number hours just to do something for me whether it’s you know, I’m gonna go out for a run for you know, whatever, you know, or you know pickleball or do something It’s like I just need something for me And I think you know, At least my experience is is the people around me are very supportive because if I don’t do that, you know, Then it’s like you need to go for a run Right, exactly, exactly, so we might want to listen to those who are around us who would be even more supportive of us having me time when they notice that we’re not doing so well.
Yeah, you know, go take a nap, go do something because you’re not fun to be around kind of a thing.
Exactly, exactly. Well, Joel, thank you so much for being here.
I really, really do hope that people are taking this to heart.
I know that you really embody what I would call living holy, W-H-O-L-L-Y, really living holy, having meaningful work, but meaningful time outside of work as well, and how each of those inform the other.
So thank you again.
Thanks for being a great model for me, and thank you for being on the show.
Yeah, thank you for inviting me and thanks for being a good little brother Well, thanks for being a big brother and don’t drive like my brother.

[27:00] Thanks.

[27:05] Here are my thoughts after my conversation with my brother Joel the overarching theme of this discussion is to prioritize.

[27:12] Me-time the benefits of this are well documented Time spent in activities that feed the self are restorative, and this translates into higher quality relationships with our family and colleagues, and importantly, our patients.
However, focusing on ourselves isn’t easy for healthcare professionals for several reasons, and here are three to come to mind.
Number one, healthcare professionals share the trait of over-availability, putting others’ needs before our own.
This gets continually reinforced in our training and then in our work.
Number two, a habituation to work.
When we do carve out some me time, many of us don’t really know what to do with it and we find ourselves defaulting back to work because there’s always something to do.
Number three, we just don’t know where to start. For many of us, activities that we engaged in that restored our souls in the past have gone dormant.

[28:15] Or we’ve suppressed investing in a pastime because we just did not feel we had enough time to devote to it.
Fortunately, to overcome these barriers, there’s a lot of wisdom in my brother’s incorporation of me-time over the years.
So here are my takeaways from this conversation.
Number one, if you want to bring me-time into your life but don’t know how, start with recalling what interested you in the past. So is it music, crafts, photography?

[28:46] And then to overcome the barrier of availability to everyone else, remind yourself that this time for self ultimately benefits not just you, but those around you.
And then look for the resources to get you started. Be intentional about taking a weekly online class or join a club that meets regularly or start weekly music lessons.
Number two takeaway, think about doing something completely different from what you’re doing.
Joel decided to explore pottery in the middle of studying histology.
This became a lifetime pursuit over 40 years. It’s so important that he intentionally sets aside an afternoon or an evening each week to devote to it.
Number three, surround yourself with people who prioritize outside interests.
This can fertilize your growing awareness that this contributes to whole life well-being.
And finally, number four, examine where in the scheme of your life you prioritize your earnings.

[29:54] Enough may be enough. Working more to earn more may create the work-life imbalance that most of us are trying to overcome.
So to sum up, The benefits of self-care are well documented.
If you find yourself having difficulty bringing this more so into your life, or even just getting started, consider starting a conversation with one of our physician coaches.
You can find us at Thank you again for listening and be well.

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