Taking Care of Others and Myself
I initially decided that I wanted to be a chiropractor when I was 16 years old. I had seen many complementary medicine practitioners growing up, thanks to my very progressive mother. After seeing what they all did, I knew that as a Chiropractor I would be helping people and manage to have a good life-work balance. My mom had her own business in fundraising since I was young and we grew up with her home office as part of our daily lives. She taught my sister and I that we needed to choose a career that made a difference in the world but also allowed us the opportunity to support ourselves.
I was told several times over the years that it would be too hard to get into Chiropractic college. I never gave up since I knew what I wanted and was determined to get there. I got my Bachelor of Physical Health and Education from the University of Toronto in 2000 and subsequently graduated from the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College in 2004. Little did I know that the hard times were yet to come.
My first job after graduation was with an amazing woman, who I still call my mentor and friend. She entrusted me with her clinic and helped me hone my business skills (the ones they don’t teach you in school). My second job unfortunately did not work out so well. Between those two clinics and a few vacation locums, I learned a lot about how I did and did not want to run my own clinic one day. ‘One day’ came 3 years after graduation.
In 2007, a few months after getting married, I struck out on my own and started my own practice. I was terrified! My husband also has his own business, so he understood the challenges and was very supportive. I purposely kept the clinic small, since I wanted to focus on what I love doing best - working and helping my patients one on one, instead of managing a great big office full of a lot of staff. I continued to work at my first job part time while I built up my own practice.
Two years later, my eldest daughter was born and I hired an associate to take some of the patient load which helped reduce the pressure on me and my hours. I went back to work part time at my own clinic when my daughter was 3 1/2 months old. I had my second daughter less than 2 years later in 2011 and returned to work after 5 months. I always say that work is a break compared to being a mom! During this time I also went to school part time for 3 years and did two years of writing many papers and exams, fulfilling the requirements to become a Fellow of the Chiropractic College of Physical and Occupational Rehabilitation in 2011.
My life came to a halt in 2013 when I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer after finding a nodule in my own neck. This was the hardest and most shocking time of my life. It was like a premature mid-life crisis at 35. I suddenly realized I wasn’t indestructible. That’s when I finally gave myself permission to really take care of myself. Before getting sick I was concerned with everyone else’s well-being, often at my own expense. Cancer was the greatest scare of my life, but it gave me some important insights. I now put self care as a priority, started mediating and exercising more, have stopped feeling guilty about making time for it, say “no” much more easily and I don’t put up with trivial nonsense as much as I used to. I have now been cancer free for three years and feel very fortunate I caught it so early.
Last fall both of my girls started full time school. I feel so fortunate that I had the time to spend with them when they were little and that I have a business that I was able to maintain through that time. It isn’t always easy, but the flexibility has given me the best of both worlds. There were many early mornings and late nights working, texts and emails at the playground, and missed bedtimes. I feel like having my own business has given me the best balance for all parts of my life. I am so grateful my work is something that has been a constant amidst all the changes in my life over the last 12 years, but that I continue to be challenged and am fortunate that I get to keep learning. I am now more willing to quiet my “inner critic” and listen to my “inner mentor”. I can truly say I couldn’t have picked a better career and I am so grateful for it.
Dr. Emily Howell is the owner, clinic director, Chiropractor and Rehabilitation Specialist at Ashbridge’s Health Centre.