Sunday, January 25, 2009

For better or worse

Are you a better doc because you have kids? As a pediatrician, I am asked this quite often. By students, by patients, by patients' families, by trainees, by colleagues, by neighbors... I try to answer sincerely, but since I resist the notion that one isn't as good at being a pediatrician before having kids, I don't want to fallback on the easy answer that I'm "better" at it now that I have two darlings myself (having experienced breastfeeding, nursemaids elbow, sleep associations, febrile UTI, and the like). In some ways, because I want to rush home promptly if not early from work to be with my kids, and arrive late to work periodically when I practically never did so before I had kids, maybe (for these and other reasons) I'm worse! When asked, what do you say?


  1. Every human experience I have makes me a different doctor. I am more helpful to some of my patients now because I am more open to discussions of sleep habits, weaning, and the many other challenges of parenting. I'm an internist, not a pediatrician, so I find myself working with mothers and offering advice about all sorts of things I wouldn't have been able to tackle before.

    On the other hand, little of this advice is based on my direct experience as a parent. I have one child who was adopted and so I have no personal stories of breastfeeding, weaning, sibling rivalry or even sleep training (my kid came wired to sleep). What I have is a community of parents, and it is their wisdom and experience I can share with my patients.

    Am I a better doctor? For some patients, probably; for others, probably not, because I am less available and less flexible and even possibly less up-to-date due to the erosion of my journal-reading time. Part of what makes me the doctor I am is my ability to draw on the experiences of others, and that's something I've always been able to do. Perhaps some of this is just being better because I'm maturing.

  2. Overall, I have to admit with a hefty dose of regret that I'm a worse doctor. All of the things you said are true. To those, I would add that I have less time and less motivation to read journals, etc than ever before. My mind is often elsewhere, if one of my own children is sick or having a tough time for one reason or another. And whereas my career was my life before having kids, it is now firmly in second place to my family, where it probably should and will remain for a very long time, maybe forever. I'm sure in other ways I am a better doctor for being a mother, but they are more abstract.

  3. Well, I was only a doctor for a year and a half before I had a child, so it's hard to say. But I think so far, I'm a better doctor for having had a child. I think it's made me more mature and more responsible. Before I had a child, I pretty much felt like a child myself.

  4. I think I am better. And worse. In different ways.


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