Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Guest post: Advice to a mom starting her pre med

A classmate of mine introduced me to a friend of hers who is a mother of three, is starting her pre reqs to apply to medical school, and is interested in ob/gyn. She connected us via a social networking site, and I wrote down came to mind as far as advice:

I haven’t found the mom thing to be a big obstacle for me in medical school. I learned how to juggle and prioritize my time when I became a mother.

Of course, I only have two kids, and I heard the transition from 2 to 3 can be a little rough. How old are they? Mine are 5 and 10, so they are both potty trained (whew!) and can both understand when mommy needs to study. Not that they won’t interrupt me, but still.

I was a little nervous about doing my post bacc pre reqs as an older student and a mother. I felt a little lonely in those classes, but I was pleasantly surprised when I got to medical school. There were other mothers and other older students there – one of my closest friends is a grandmother, and she found time to work 40 hours a week while in med school (I don’t recommend it, but she did. And she still does on her rotations).

I obviously don’t have the time nor the inclination to party as hard as many of my classmates. Nor do I get my nails done or go to the gym. But, I managed to be incredibly active in extracurricular activities in medical school. I found time to be involved in things that interested me (I was president of the ob/gyn club, for example, and helped run the Vagina Monologues and ran the HIV testing clinic) because I wouldn’t enjoy medical school otherwise. And, I could always give them up if I wasn’t happy with my grades, which I was.

What helped me:

1. Juggle and balance. I would go to school, try to make and eat dinner with my family, and then study in the later evenings when the kids were in bed and on weekends after spending breakfast with the family. That schedule worked for me.

2. During my pre med, I only took part time classes, but I was also working full time. Looking back, I wish I took out loans and did the school thing full time. My life course might have been different, since I got into ob/gyn late in my premed, but still, it was a longer journey than it had to be.

3. Find friends who know what’s going on and use them. (Not use them use them, but you know what I mean.) I am not the best person when it comes to knowing what paperwork is due when, etc. So, I find an organized, friendly classmate who is good at staying on top of this stuff, and remember to ask them for help when I need it. It’s also good to have a phone number or two in case a family issue comes up and you miss something.

I did not do this enough in my pre med, and entered the application process woefully underprepared. Do your research, ask for help if you aren’t informed. I didn’t have time to do all the pre med extra curricular stuff since I was working full time and my kids were younger. I blew it my first application round, because of stupid stuff (I didn’t wear a suit to my first interview. I wore professional clothes, like I would to a business interview. Wrong. Stood out like a sore sore thumb).

4. Don’t overestimate or underestimate the understanding of your classmates, professors or administrators when it comes to your kids. Some people who you think will be understanding won’t, and may treat it like a weakness. Some people who you wouldn’t expect to be an ally at all will surprise you. Don’t be afraid to bring up the kids, but don’t act like you automatically deserve a break or special treatment. If you try as hard as you can to be as good (or even better) than the childless students, you will hopefully get the support you need when you do need an accommodation.

5. Don’t put your education last in your house. I sometimes find myself having standards for myself as a parent that may be too high. For example, I love making home made valentines with my kids, and despise the commercial ones with the cartoon characters on them. Well, this year I had a major research presentation due this past Friday, and was working on it Thursday night when I realized that my younger son had to do the Valentine’s Day exchange Friday since the holiday occurred over the weekend. My husband bought some Batman valentines, I gritted my teeth and got over it.

6. Quality time is OK sometimes, as opposed to quantity time. I ave myself permission to leave the house to study if I had to, when shutting myself in a bedroom wasn’t working. I didn’t do it too much, but one day a week or so, more during board review, with strategic kid bonding time scheduled in, worked for me.

7. Remember, it could be worse. You could be looking for a husband and trying to plan kids during your residency.

8. As for ob/gyn, I wouldn’t obsess about a specialty now, but I am a huge fan of ob/gyn. Any specialty can be challenging, time wise. Neurosurgeries take 6 hours or more a piece. I talked to an ophthalmologist who loves her practice as a mom now, but she had a grueling residency, with three babies at home (she had twins during her residency!)

Hope that was helpful. Please feel free to contact me whenever you need to.


Please feel free to add advice!

Mom TFH is one of the oldest people at her medical school. The other students learn from her various valuable life experieces: as a pizza delivery driver, a Denny's waitress, an art major, a health food store manager, a purple haired punk, a natural supplement researcher, a midwifery student, and a mother. She has two boys and a public elementary school PE coach. Going to med school just didn't keep her away from them enough, so she is doing a dual degree (D.O./M.P.H.), is the president of the ob/gyn interest club, and is now doing a preclinical research fellowship before starting rotations in July.


  1. I have a friend, mom of 2 ..13 and 3 .. who is in school part time. I'm seeing the burn out in her. I am going full time and as my hours caught up to her and passed her she became even more discouraged.
    While Part Time might help short term, I see far more students burning out with the part time, it just takes sooo much longer to get through.
    I've tried to explain to her it's simple math ..if you need 120 hours to get your degree and you go 6 hours a semester ... it's going to take you 20 semesters and 10 years!!
    Full time, it's 5 years at 12 hours. Quite a difference.

  2. I'm a 26 year old premed mother to 2 (ages 5 on next
    Monday and 7), the younger of which has some special medical needs...I found this to be very helpful. I've learned a lot of that juggling already, but it is still nice to hear that we all have to make those decisions and that everyone survives if mom has to study or can't always be Martha Stewart.

  3. LOVE This! Thank you for the inspiration. I am NOT the only mother out there who is attempting the impossible.Even my best friends act as if i am being an irresponsible parent by choosing to pursue this path. It can be frustrating. Do you mind if I ask your age?

  4. Lots of good advice about balance and cutting yourself some slack (ie. the valentines- I did the EXACT same thing this year and nobody got hurt). Bravo to you.

  5. Thanks! I am in my late 20s and just finishing my pre-reqs while thinking about getting pregnant (and I'm interested in OB/GYN.) It's nice to see that it can be done.

    1. This is awesome! I am also thinking about getting pregnant and all this advice will deff, be taken into consideration.

  6. Thanks! I am in my late 20s and just finishing my pre-reqs while thinking about getting pregnant (and I'm interested in OB/GYN.) It's nice to see that it can be done.

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  8. This is fantastic advice. Thank you so much for sharing! I am a way-older non-trad pre-med with a husband and four, yes four, kidlets. I could not pursue this long and arduous path if they all did not support me. And I am always grateful to come across other women in the field of medicine who are supportive as well.

  9. You are so right about learning to juggle/prioritize time better as a mother. When you have less time to waste, less gets wasted.

    I, too, did store-bought valentines this year. But you should see the amazing homemade mailboxes we worked on - that made up for it!

  10. Thanks for the overwhelming response!

    As for my age, I am going to turn 37 in less than a month. I will turn 40 the year I start my residency.

    I just heard the other day that the average age in my medical school class was 31.

    One of the women who graduated last year has five children. She joined her husband, one year behind him, in an emergency medicine residency program last July. She loved medical school, and is thrilled to become a doctor.

    Lots of parents have demands on their time that are not as fulfilling as a career in medicine. 70% or more of mothers work outside of the home. Might as well go for your dreams, I think.

  11. I am an MS1. I have four kids - and I am planning a couple more before I finish medical school. Year between MS2-MS3 I am going to take off to do a masters (and have a baby hopefully) and then I will hopefully fit in one more during fourth year. Then I will have the six I always wanted and not need to be pregnant during residency so I can be, you know, hard core as they say on Grey's anatomy. My current children are ages 8, 7, 4 and 9months. It is nice to see so many other mothers in medicine on here. Great job everyone!

    1. And where are your kids while you are in school or study or in clinic????

  12. nice post. thanks.

  13. Hi Mom TFH,
    Thanks for this post! It was wonderful to read. Hope I'm not entering the conversation too late.

    Advice item # 3 spoke right to my heart. I have a good GPA (3.97) and MCAT scores(35Q) and a research-based master's from the U of Michigan. However, I too initially entered the application process woefully unprepared. I felt like a total outsider at my interviews. What else do I need to do to be an insider? What are the pre-med extra-curriculars that you refer to? I am currently volunteering at a hospital, but I feel like I should be doing more to acquaint myself with the field. What advice can you give me?

  14. I'm getting chills reading all these comments because I have wanted to become a doctor for a long time but decided when I got pregnant with my 3rd child that I just couldn't do it. I stayed in school though and am now in graduate school working on my Masters of Social Work.

    However, after making it through these last 2 semesters and working at my internship in the hospital I have become even more interested in neuroscience and psychiatry. And I want to go back to finish my premed classes and go to medical school. I was thinking I was insane but now I see it is possible.

    Thank you for sharing and while it will take me 2 years after I finish my MSW to complete my premed classes (in which time I'll become a fully licensed MSW) I now see that if this desire continues to burn in me that I have no choice but to follow through. My children are amazing (5,3, and 1) and their father is a fantastic partner and cheerleader.

    I can do this and I won't do it alone. Thanks.

  15. Thank you so much for this post. I am 33 and a mother of a 3 year old and 1.5 year old. I am planning to start med school in 2 years. I get overwhelmed thinking of how I will be able to handle school and my kids without it having a negative effect on them. I too find myself at a place where my best friends think I am totally crazy for wanting to do this. I have felt a burning desire to become a doctor for many many years and now I think I have waited long enough and have to act. Thank you for other brave moms who have done this before me.

  16. Thanks a lot for this message!! I'm 30 mother of a 3 years old boy, n ill start my pre-med req this Summer. Before read those messages I was a little descouraged for my conditions. but after seem that I'm not the only one it gave strengths n the push that i needed. God bless all of us, yes we can!

  17. Thank you so much for sharing.
    The best thing is really to ignore everyone who says dont do it. I didnt do it when it was the right time and I regret it more and more every year.

    1. This is what I needed to hear, thank you!

  18. This post is really helpful. I have always been career- and goal-oriented. I had my first daughter my senior year of undergrad. Many people told me to sit out my last year. But, I defied their requests and finished college in four years with a new husband and baby. It was very beneficial to talk with my professors before I had her. I also had a group of 4 girls who were roommates that volunteered to help us out. We all rotated watching the baby while we all went to class and while my husband worked and went to class. I am soooo looking forward to starting med school even more. I am teaching now, but I know that I still want to be a pediatrician. I tell people all the time that I am going back to school and now they give me a lot of encouragement. This article makes my dream seem more tangible. I now have four kids: ages 12, almost 9, 2.5 and 1.5. When (not if) I start med school I know my family and friends will support me. Hopefully, I can join a coalition of mothers and women, in general, who have similar aspirations.

  19. Really great advice. I am a non-trad student in my early 30's, working full time and applying to med school this year. I'm also wanting to plan for a child before my mid 30's. I would potentially be a single mother, any advice or resources for single mom med students?


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