March 2015 Healthy Women Feature Story: 10 Questions with Dr. Jill Laureano-Surber

Dr. Jill Laureano-Surber on Health, Career, Family & How to Ask for Help

Photo by Justin Sorensen, NNY Business.

Photo by Justin Sorensen, NNY Business.

Dr. Jill Laureano-Surber, D.O, runs a brand-new family practice in Watertown’s Washington Summit. She is a dedicated mother of four children, all younger than 5. She and her husband, Anthony, have been married for seven years, tying the knot just a few short months before she started medical school. A north country native, Dr. Laureano-Surber completed medical school in Middelford, Maine. As a busy mother and doctor, she knows firsthand what it’s like to ask for help, and how trying to go it alone can bring on a quick burnout.

NNYB: Sometimes as women, we try to “do it all.” Why is this? What is it we don’t want to let go of?
LAUREANO-SURBER: I think there is a lot of pressure for women to maintain the traditional role of the one that maintains the house and cares for the children. When I became a mother, I was in my third year of medical school, so I needed to find a way to make it all work. I have a nanny that cares for my children when I am at work. I also have someone that comes and helps clean our house every couple of weeks. In between those times, my husband and I work as a team preparing meals for the children, doing laundry and keeping the house in order.

NNYB: The desire to take the reins on everything can spill into our professional life. We might not want to ask our clients for more money or negotiate a salary that is fair and equitable. How do you manage these kinds of challenges?
LAUREANO-SURBER: I’ve had to overcome those fears when negotiating business contracts, meeting with developers and contractors and other interactions with businesses at the practice. I think people look at me and think because I’m young, I must also be naïve. I work hard at overcoming that perception. I have a business and sales background that has helped me in opening the practice, but it certainly hasn’t been easy. Some people are not comfortable with a woman in the business world, so maneuvering through those relationship dynamics can be a challenge. I am, however, always up for a challenge.

NNYB: A woman could “outsource” tasks to her partner or children. But to maintain ownership of the domestic sphere, she often doesn’t, enabling her to dictate who does what and when. What have you let go of for someone else in your family to pick up?
LAUREANO-SURBER: I am the best mother and partner when I am able to let things go that are not important. This gives me time for work, my children and my husband. In order to achieve this, I have to rely on my husband to do things I would normally do. The past six months he has started to cook for the family so I’m able to go to the gym four to five nights a week. It has made a tremendous difference in our life. Sometimes our partners need to take the initiative when we are not capable of asking for that help ourselves.

NNYB: Many women today don’t have someone at home to delegate to, even if they wanted. Where can they go to find someone who can guide them, such as a mentor or assistant?
LAUREANO-SURBER: It is so important to immerse yourself in your community and develop meaningful friendships and support systems. Whether it is your faith community, work community or social community, it’s vital. That being said, you can always find someone that is willing to help in those communities. Try posting an ad for something like an assistant, nanny or housekeeper. It can go a long way in making your life run more smoothly.

NNYB: We are often resistant to seek help because we fear appearing incompetent or weak. How can we remind ourselves that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness?
LAUREANO-SURBER: Many women feel they have to please everyone around them, which can lead to trouble if we don’t keep this in check. Putting ourselves last doesn’t make us a better partner, mother or friend. The more we neglect ourselves, the more we end up with anxiety or depression. I see this in my female patients every day. We need to put ourselves first sometimes. I remind women that they would never teach their own daughters to put their needs last and not value their self worth, so why is it acceptable that we do this to ourselves?

NNYB: Our health can take a hit when we become overwhelmed. Often, we don’t even know what’s happening to our bodies. What are the signs we should be aware of when we start to overload?
LAUREANO-SURBER: For starters, we can avoid overwhelm by taking better care of ourselves. Our bodies need exercise. Our minds need exercise. When we don’t eat well or exercise, we are more at risk for feeling overwhelmed. Signs of overwhelm include: chronic pain, headaches, insomnia, anxiety, depression, short temper, panic attacks, heart palpitations, fatigue, dry skin, weight gain and even unintentional weight loss.

NNYB: What would happen if we gave ourselves permission — for say a week — to do things differently? Would this help shift our perception a bit?
LAUREANO-SURBER: I think everyone would be shocked at how much more at ease they would feel. It frees up so much more time to focus on the things that are truly important in life, like enjoying our children instead of herding them like cattle from one space to the next so we can vacuum, dust or clean a bathroom. You might actually be able to sit on the couch and have an adult conversation with your husband after putting the kids to bed. These are the things I am grateful for when I have help with my household tasks.

NNYB: Do you have a quote you refer to when you feel overwhelmed?
LAUREANO-SURBER: I am not a quote kind of gal but I find that I often use humor as a way to cope when I am feeling overwhelmed. If you ask my staff at the office, I am sure they will tell stories about me doing impressions or dancing around on some of our most stressful days. Whatever works.

NNYB: How do you know when enough is enough?
LAUREANO-SURBER: When I get overwhelmed, I feel like I’m not doing anything well, and then everything around me suffers. I like to exercise on days like this so I can get my frustrations out at the gym. I’ve learned to be very protective of my time too, especially as a new physician in a new practice. I have people asking me to join groups, boards or take leadership roles. I consider each opportunity for at least a week before I make any decisions. I have a tendency to say yes because I want to help, but I’ve learned to step away and say no so I have more time with my family.

NNYB: Who or what inspires you the most and why?
LAUREANO-SURBER: Other local business owners inspire me. I know how difficult it is to start a new business. I’m able to interact with other business owners and seek help and advice from them. I am truly grateful for that camaraderie and guidance. I have also been blessed in my life with some very kind people that have offered their generosity during some very challenging times. I hope to be able to do the same for someone else someday as my success begins to pay off.

— Interview by Joleene Moody. Edited for length and clarity to fit this space.

Photo by Justin Sorensen, NNY Business.

Photo by Justin Sorensen, NNY Business.