Monday, August 18, 2008

Mothers, don't let your daughters be doctors

Stranger: "Little girl, what do you want to be when you grow up?"

Me: "A doctor." [Looks to mother for approval]

Mother: "That's right."

Before I even really knew what a doctor was, I knew that was what I was supposed to be. My parents, both doctors, expected it of me, and I accepted it, much like an arranged marriage. After all, there was nothing else I really wanted to be, other than maybe a ballerina (in retrospect, that likely wouldn't have worked out too well).

In high school and college, I entertained thoughts of other careers, but my father made some very compelling arguments for med school that I was unable to refute:

1) How many careers are there out there where you can really help people?

2) As a woman, this is one of the few fields where you will earn a decent salary and not have to rely on your husband to support you.

3) Just take the MCATs already and see how you do.

At the end of my sophomore year of college, I "just took the MCATs to see how I'd do" and when I got my score back, it was good enough to apply to medical school. And after having taken an eight hour exam, I already felt time committed. Why would I put myself through that and pre-med biology if I wasn't going to apply to med school?

So here I am years later, a new physician. I can't say that this was the perfect career choice for me, but now that I'm at the tail end of my residency, I'm not about to quit and start folding jeans at the Gap** either.

People ask me if I plan to encourage my daughter to become a doctor. At this point, I'd settle for her not coloring all over the walls, but my specific answer to that question is, "Absolutely not."

In fact, not only will I not encourage her to become a doctor, but I will actively discourage her from entering a life in medicine. I will tell her every awful story I can think of about the abuse med students, residents, and (I can only presume) attendings are put through. I'll complain incessantly about how being a doctor means giving up your life to your patients. I mean, yes, I'll buy her the toy doctor's kit, but that will be mostly for me to play with.

And after all that, if she still wants to be a doctor, I can't say I'll be disappointed. What mom doesn't want her daughter to follow in her footsteps? But it's important to me that she gets to that decision on her own. Because medicine is not a career anyone should be pushed into.

And best of all, this way if she ends up hating it, I'll get to say, "I told you so." I've heard mothers love saying that.

**Favorite alternate joke career of doctor trainees who want to quit, for some reason


  1. I have three kids- all little. I've been an attending for only five years now and it was bad for a while.

    Now part time. Much better!

    If my daughters or son for that matter want to be a doctor I'll certainly say don't so it on my account and hope they believe me.

    I never had doctor parents so I feel I went into this with my eyes closed. It's been quite an awakening.

  2. I love the line about the toy doctor kit being purchased for you to play with. Isn't that the truth? I'm sure that I will be saying, "No, no honey. The otoscope is not used on your elbow. Here let me show you."

  3. My back up careers are wedding planner and fashion police.

    I don't have babies yet and I'm probably going to have them after residency. My future place of employment is supportive of female physicians having kids (and by then, there will be enough hospitalists so it won't be a bad crunch).

    But as far as discouraging future kids from a career in medicine...I don't know. I guess my experience differs. My residency really hasn't been that bad. Sure, I'm chronically sleep deprived and am worked to the bone, but I enjoy it. If they find that it's something they love to do, then by all means. I love going to work every day and that's the key.

  4. I took my very science minded, then 3 year old son into the dermatologist for treatments for warts on his nose.
    My son, could name all the bones on his face and skull (how? why? I don't know, he taught them to me)

    This started a very long campaign for the dermatologist who insisted that my son become a doctor. He must .. he should ..he's gifted in the sciences .. he's got the mind for it ...
    one time even acting offended when I said he had no interest in medicine and he rather appalled said "well what else is he going to do?"
    By this time, my son was 14 years old, he'd been treated by the dermatologist for 10+ years on a monthly basis before the warts finally went away ...they got to know each other very very well.

    Dermatologist decides the end of my sons first semester in high school to move out of state ... and Samuel gets his first Pre ACT And PSATscores in with some job recomendations on there ... one of them ...
    Doctor ...
    WHAT? REALLY ? ME? I could be a doctor? REALLY?
    The day after that poor dermatologist moved out of state ... my son changes his mind and chooses medicine.

    Go figure.

    He's a freshman in college of today. I guess I should try to contact him and let him know all his cajoling worked.

  5. First son announced he was taking MCAT's after 2nd year college. Now out of med school, married to a med school classmate. Second son announced he was taking MCAT's after 2nd year college. Currently in med school. Too soon to draw conclusions about the baby grandchildren. But I suspect it's partly osmosis of the "family business". Trips to the office or hospital from earliest childhood, clerical work at the office as they get older, medical journals decorating the house. It's certainly not something I would discourage.

  6. I never had doctor parents, either, but it wouldn't have mattered. Our children's careers will be radically different from ours; heck, my career is radically different from when I started. My two girls, bright things that they were, never had any inclination to be doctors, and I wouldn't have encourgaed them if they had. One is a teacher and the other (nontrad drum roll, please) is a civil engineer.

  7. My preferred alternate career is coffee barista.

  8. I want Son to be a plumber. Or electrician. Some career that would benefit ME. I already know enough doctors.

  9. I swear, Gap Jean-folder is the only thing anyone could come up with when we talked about quitting.

  10. I went into medicine partly out of love of the idea of helping others, partly b/c my parents expected me to. I hate to say it, but now, knowing what I know about primary care (especially IM, I still love peds), and the hours it involves, and the sacrifices it involves, I just don't know if I would choose it again. I wonder if your parents are doctors (mine were not), if you are able to go into this field w/ your eyes open. More so than those of us who still have the concept of the friendly, jovial, small town doctor in mind.

  11. Wonderful post! When I was in college, I overheard a friend of mine who was a few years older tell someone that he would never let his daughter become a doctor. I was insulted at the time (what a sexist!), but now I understand.

    My alternate career of choice is beach bum. (Another option when I'm truly pissed off: malpractice attorney.) ;-)

  12. When I used to get frustrated during residency, I would tell people I would become a phone sex operator. As an ob/gyn, I knew all the technical names, was familar with the topic, could work from home and did not have to wear any "uniform"! Alas, I am still a practicing ob/gyn! lol


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