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Mom, MD-to-Be: A Female Perspective on Having Kids as a Med Student or Resident – Part 1

The AAMC recently reported that women now outnumber men in medical school enrollment. This represents a huge dynamic shift from a time when almost no women choose to pursue this career. So why the change? Are less women opting to have children and start families? Probably not. More likely, women are finding ways to balance both their kids and their careers. But how they do this is an important question that is often not addressed. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to interview a remarkable woman who balances a successful career in science, medicine, and teaching while raising three children with her husband. In part 1 of this interview, we will learn about this physician’s personal experiences starting a family and balancing her career. Read on to learn some words of wisdom from a superwoman herself!

At what point in your medical career did you get married and have children? How were these experiences both beneficial and challenging?

When I got married, I was in the PhD phase of an MD/PhD program. I had my first child in my 4th year of medical school, my middle child during intern year, and my youngest child in in my second year of residency. My life changed after getting married and having children because my priorities shifted. I’m a pretty independent person and was used to doing everything on my own schedule, which changed when it was no longer only about me. However, having children is a major positive motivator. It’s the part of my life that is separate from medicine and from whatever I’m busy with professionally. My husband and kids allow me to take a break and step away from being completely consumed by my career.

Is your husband also in medicine? Who else makes up your support group?

My husband is not in medicine, which has worked out well for us. His schedule is a little more flexible, allowing him to cover when last-minute things come up with the kids. Though he works full-time as well, I am grateful that he takes on a lot of the household and child care responsibilities. We moved away from our extended families for residency, which has been challenging. But my husband, parents, siblings, neighbors, extended friends and family, and also my co-residents are incredible sources of emotional support.

Did you take off time from your medical training to have children?

No, I have been fortunate not to need to. I worked right up until giving birth. In fact, during my intern year, I finished my work day on the inpatient floor, signed out, and came back later that night to deliver my son. My team rounded on me the next day! I took around 5 weeks off after the birth of each of my children. The issue that I—and many others—face during residency is that although contractually there is often additional unpaid maternity leave available, the ACGME is very strict with clinical training requirements, and any time missed beyond the allotted vacation time must be made up at the end of residency. This becomes particularly challenging when it means delaying the start of fellowship or specialty training.

How do you balance your career and your family life?

I am not convinced that I do! I’ve never felt that I’ve achieved a “perfect” balance. My career and my family co-exist, and I invariably feel that one or the other is being prioritized at any given point in time. It’s a constant, delicate process, and I just try to do my best.

Some people feel there is no perfect time to have children. Do you agree?

Yes, I 100% agree with that statement! There is no perfect time, and there will always be other considerations. Not enough money, not enough time, not enough energy, not enough support… the list is endless. Unfortunately, there is no option to enter an alternate reality where you raise your kids and then come back and pick up right where you left off in your career. Having children isn’t going to make your life “easier” if measured purely in time and money, but having a family brings a host of other rewards that for me have made the various challenges all the more worthwhile.

Interested in learning more about what this physician has to say? In part 2 of this interview, we will learn about the hopes, fears, and regrets this physician had about balancing her career and her family life and her advice for other women looking start their own families while pursuing medicine.