Thursday, July 17, 2008

DoctorMom, revisited

I've been asked about how being a doctor affects the way I'm a parent; in review, I'd have to say there are probably some things I have done differently because of my background: I probably worried less about a runny nose and productive cough when my kids were younger. I'm more annoyed than concerned about the occasional bloody nose that Youngest gets, especially after he's admitted he hasn't been taking his allergy medication. My kids have known anatomical terms for their most private parts since before they could talk, and the "toy" medical kit they used to use contained the stethoscope I received when I was a medical student. And dinner table conversations are as likely to include a discourse on why cocaine can lead to a stroke (even in first time users) as they are to include a review of the school day.

More important, I think, is the question about how being a mom has affected the way I practice medicine. I see a great deal of "carry-over" as I interact with my patients. See the way that lady with Alzheimer's disease grabs my hand and won't let go? In residency we learn about "frontal releasing signs" as an indication of deterioration of the brain; as I speak with families I can describe how this is similar to the grasp that an infant has, because I've experienced that same grasp when my babies were born. Similar to the way I don't shy away from explaining the concept of "you get benefits out of something proportional to the effort you put into it" to my kids, I'm not afraid to tell a patient who has refused to participate in the home program component of physical therapy that I'm not surprised that he hasn't seen any lasting benefits. And (I know that this is not at all politically correct) if one of my patients has shared with me fears or concerns about the future, especially as it relates to the illness I treat her for, I'm not hesitant to give her a hug at the end of the visit any more than I would hesitate to hug one of my children after they've shared their most recent fear or worry.

I'd like to believe that being a doctor has made me a better parent in many way; at the same time, I'd like to believe that being a parent has made me a better doctor.

Have any of you experienced similar experiences with your patients?



  1. I have times when I believe that I am a better doctor since becoming a mother. I think in many ways it's just an extension of the life experience that makes an experienced doctor better than an inexperienced one. Particularly, I am more sympathetic to women struggling during pregnancy after a difficult pregnancy of my own, and it's been heartening to get feedback from them that they appreciate the empathy.

    I just discovered your blog and look forward to reading more of it.

  2. I have just found this website and think it's wonderful. Becoming a physician, then a mother later changed my practice in several ways. I have become much more lenient and understanding w/ mothers struggling to raise their children. For example, I am less likely to start spouting off AAP guidelines on TV watching and more likely to work w/ the mother to find other activities for their child or lead them, perhaps, to more child-friendly programs. However, I have also become less tolerant of people wasting my time. My goal at the end of the day is to be able to leave on time to pick th kids up from daycare and not have to bring too much work home to finish after they've gone to sleep. In this respect, if someone comes to me c/o their persistant pain but refusing to go along w/ my recommendations, I have less time to listen to their excuses

  3. I definitely feel that being a mother has made me a better doctor, and vice versa (though my spouse might disagree with the doctor-thus-better-mother part, since he thinks doctor-makes-negligent-mother-who-doesn't-worry-enough-about-anything). And it's not just being a mom, but having my friends have kids, too.

    I am much more compassionate and do better problem solving for patients around compliance and therapy use and general kid problems (biting, hitting, sleeping, and so on). I am so much better at helping tease apart the family dynamic problems and finding solutions that will work for *this* family, because I have tried some solutions and compromises in my family, and have talked to my friends about them and learned from them, too.

    It makes it a lot easier to sometimes simply acknowledge how difficult some parts of parenting are, rather than having to have the One Right Answer. Acknowledging the difficulty and offering some new ideas is helpful more than I would have thought before having a child.

  4. I deal with a lot of severely brain injured patients and I tend to talk to them and deal with them similarly to the way I've learned to do with my one year old daughter. I feel a little embarrassed when I realize I'm doing it, but I often manage to get a smile out of the patient that way.

  5. Residency training gave me the academic way of looking at patients and their problems, but motherhood gave me realism. Most situations don't go the textbook route - it would be nice if they did but they don't. Parenthood has made me a much more flexible, problem-solving kind of doc. Medicine in return has made me a much less anxious parent except for things like latex balloons, heelies, trampolines and baby-walkers. :)

  6. Thanks for the input - once again, it's nice to know that I'm not the only one with these experiences!


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