Monday, July 13, 2009

Guest Post: On the lack of women mentors

None of my mentors have been women. It saddens me to say this. In fact it outrages me. The women I met in medicine prior to medical school warned me away from medicine - "Its not too late," they said. "You can quit now and find something easy." I had been bitten by the bug and there was no way I was doing anything else but medicine.

We had had real tragedy in my family and at that point I wanted to be a trauma surgeon or a neurosurgeon working 100 hour weeks, hopefully saving some lives, and the idea that I might want to do anything else with my life was so foreign.

Then at the end of 3rd year I got pregnant. We had been married 7 years. This was a planned and hoped for pregnancy and though I had thought that making the work-life balance would be difficult, I was definitely living a fantasy. Reality set in 9 months later when I held my child in my arms the first time. The responsibility weighed on me. I almost picked my specialty just on the fact I could have an easier residency. But I decided not to sell out my dream.

I am lucky and have an incredible husband who can (and will) be doing the parenting by himself next year. I chose to stay in town at an academic but not abusive residency. I've got a long road to go, but I realized long ago that it is about the journey and not the destination.

I wish there had been a woman around who had made the same decisions I made who seemed genuinely happy about them. Maybe I'll find one as an intern/resident. There are definitely some women out there who could use some guidance other than "Don't do it."

A reader left this comment a few weeks ago on a post that was part of our Topic Day on "Our Mentors." We hope this site can be a source of support and encouragement for those who need it. (I think all of us contributors here agree that it is worth it, and our lives are richer for our decision to be physcians and mothers.)


  1. We had a pre-med advisor who was NOT a doctor at my college who routinely told her female students not to go into medicine and certainly not to go into an MD-PhD program because "things can change" and "we might want babies someday." Though it may be true, I've always felt that it's counter-productive advice.

    I've always had male mentors. They don't generally advise me based on my ability or desire to produce children, and how that may or may not conflict with my career aspirations, and I prefer it that way. That's just me though.

    In my mind, another person's experience is just that: THEIRS.

  2. I am a happy almost full-time clinician investigator at an academic university. I think motherhood and medicine are challenging (both seperately and together!), but happiness in medicine and motherhood is not an impossible dream. I think being a mom can be intermittently fraught with guilt and regret and anxiety - and I think this is only minimally based on medicine and its demands, as it seems true of all my friends, regardless of their professions and choices about careers. communities like this one though abate that - and every time I have felt my worst about something, a good night's sleep or a cuddle from my kids makes worries vanish.

    One thing to think about - you might get to have the most meaningful conversations with a happy mom in medicine if you asked if you could join her and her kids at a park on the weekend for an hour or so. Every mom in medicine I know is incredibly efficient at work. But i have some of my best conversations about all sorts of things at the park in between the need for snacks, skinned knees and spotting someone climbing.

  3. I am an intern (and did the M.D./PhD training gig) and the mother of a two-year-old. I'm on Saturday call right now and almost in tears (okay, I am) because I just called home and my son told me (while crying himself), "Mama, no work. Come home." I have twenty more hours at the hospital. I would give anything for a mentor mommy in medicine to tell me that it's possible to do both and be good at both, because right now, I'm crying on call (not being a good intern, obviously) and have a crying baby at home (not being a good mama, obviously). It seems an impossible balance and the choices (after so much investment) so difficult.

  4. Kristin - don't call home. Know that your son is fine (and probably not even thinking about the fact that you're not there until you call). You can absolutely be good at both - be present in the moment. At work, focus on that, about being a great doctor. At home, focus on that, being a great mother. I think women are too easily tormented when unable to separate the two to some degree.

    Internship is hard. Harder on you than your son. It would be harder for him if he were older, though. But, it's going to be even harder for you if you call.

  5. Thank you, KC. I needed that!

  6. My husband does this great thing (maybe yours can too). He sends me an occasional text page to let me know what is up, and he probably sugar coats it. "Had prunes for dinner. Changed diaper. Baby playing with cell phone. Just dialed 911." Or whatever, but it makes me smile and I know he is getting special daddy time. Being an intern mom is hard. I'm there with you! I remember telling my mom that I was DEFINITELY going to be a stay at home mom. Her reply, "We'll see - and if you do, that's great."


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