Mom, MD-to-Be: A Female Perspective on Having Kids as a Med Student or Resident – Part 2

  • /Reviewed by: Amy Rontal, MD
  • New York Times article was recently published with the title, “Being a Doctor is Hard. It’s Harder for Women.” Many people can probably speculate why this might be the case. Women who choose to have children often carry the bulk of the childcare responsibilities and have pressures, fears, and difficulties that men don’t have to face. In part 2 of this interview, we will hear again from a prominent physician-scientist about her fears, regrets, hopes for the future, and advice for women working on balancing family and career.

    Some women may be fearful to tell their course directors, professors, attendings or other supervisors that they are pregnant for fear they will be stigmatized. Was this the case for you?

    Yes. As a med student, I worried about how accommodating my medical school would be in terms of scheduling rotations that matched up with my pregnancy and delivery. As a resident, I worried about call, coverage, and a lot about how my leave would impact my co-residents, as I didn’t want to burden them. I was fortunate that my fears were largely unfounded. My medical school and residency directors were supportive and helpful with schedule changes. For instance, I was able to start an elective rotation when I returned from maternity leave, which helped ease my transition back. Similarly, my co-residents seemed genuinely happy to help, which I really appreciated.

    What was your greatest fear about becoming pregnant and having children in medical school and residency?

    As a “type A” person, I am all about planning. Therefore, my greatest fear with each pregnancy was of the unknown. What if something went wrong that would throw my career and home life off track? And even if everything went smoothly as hoped, how would my family and I adjust to a new child? I don’t think these concerns are unique to medicine — but perhaps I felt them more acutely because I had invested so much in my career each step of the way.

    Do you regret any of your decisions concerning your career and family or is there anything you would have done differently?

    No, I have no regrets. I feel extremely fortunate to have been blessed with an amazing home and work life. However, in retrospect I do wish that I would have worried less! I try to remind myself to stop stressing the details and to enjoy my family in the moment.

    Did you have any strong female role models to guide you along the way?

    Yes, I’ve been lucky to have many strong women physicians and scientists as role models for my career. They are amazing sources of support, and I continue to seek out and benefit from their guidance and mentorship. Though most of them are a bit older than I am, with grown children, I value their advice regarding work-life balance as they help me keep the bigger-picture perspective in mind.

    Do you think any changes could be made to make it easier for women to have children in medical school and residency?

    I think it is important to keep in mind that we owe it to our patients to achieve a standardized level of competency though medical school and residency training before we are privileged to treat them as independent practitioners. Therefore, I am not in favor of shortcuts to medical training. That being said, I would hope that any existing flexibility in scheduling could be utilized to help accommodate women who choose to have children during this time while still fulfilling clinical requirements. Furthermore, I am in favor of institutions and programs having a clear set of policies and procedures in place to provide clarity to women who are considering having children during training (for instance, how much paid vs. unpaid leave is available, options for extending training, etc.). Knowing the possibilities and being able to choose among them can be both reassuring and empowering.

    Any final advice for women who are considering having children during medical school and residency?

    Try not to sweat the details! At the end of the day, your family and your children enrich your life and make it meaningful. My preschool-age kids are extremely proud of me, which is something I did not expect and is so nice to see. Today, when I ask my daughter what she wants to be when she grows up, she says she wants to be a mommy and a doctor. Though the dual roles can be challenging, I am so grateful for the opportunity to be living both.