Thursday, April 14, 2011

MiM Mailbag: Have baby AND pass boards?

Dear Mothers in Medicine,

I am currently a resident going into my last year of residency (yay) and was planning on trying to have a baby so that I would deliver at the end of my residency. This would be perfect because in terms of decreasing the amount of time I would have to delay working/fellowship. However, I've been warned by a friend of mine that it might be an awful idea because I would be a new mom while trying to study and take the boards. Anyone with some advice? Do you think it is possible if I plan well and study before that I will be able to pass the boards and have a baby?




  1. Any time in your entire career that you have a baby, something is going to get sacrificed. If you have a baby during residency, it's going to be hard because you'll have a lot of work. If you have a baby as an attending, it will be hard because the coverage is often less available. If you're truly worried about the boards, just make sure to study a lot all through your last year of residency.... there's no need to cram it all in during the last week.

    Keep in mind that life is rarely perfect. You can plan and plan and still get a curveball. You don't know if you're going to get pregnant at the exact minute that you plan to... some even very fertile women I know have had to try for up to 6 months, many longer. And if you get pregnant when you want, you may have some complication during pregnancy, miss a chunk of residency, and have to make it up later.

    The moral is, if you feel ready for a baby, try for a baby. It's never going to be exactly perfect.

  2. I had a baby in my 3rd/final year and passed the boards. I had a live-in grandmother and was able to study after 8 pm when child was asleep. I read board review books while pumping milk. I started board preparation almost 2 years before my exams though, well before baby planning, because my residency was so busy, often
    100h/week. You can do it if you have enough help at home and are not severely sleep deprived. I probably would not have done well on the boards if I were the one to get up at night for my baby.

  3. i got pregnant in the final months of my residency, started fellowship, passed my boards, and had a baby. It can be just need to be organized.

  4. I studied (and passed) for Step 3 with new baby#1 and for anatomic and clinical pathology boards with new baby#2. It is very possible - for me having a baby made me much more efficient with my time. Sure, I fell into a political and cultural black hole for a few years, but it sure has been fun catching up. Good luck!

  5. Yes! Definitely doable. I planned to take my Step 3 before I had my baby, but delivered early, and actually had to call them after the fact to reschedule. I offered to get them proof of my hospitalization, and they waived the penalty fee too. I took it when my son was a couple of months old and pumped milk in the bathroom during the exam. It was stressful, but doable. Granted I didn't have to study much for it (compared to the boards), but my point being that it's possible to take a major exam just before or after having a baby.

  6. I took my IM boards when about 18 weeks pregnant with my first, and it was fine. Irrespective of the pregnancy, I can't say that I really studied a lot and I think most of my colleagues didn't either - residency was good preparation. That probably really varies by specialty, which you'll want to keep under consideration.

  7. I agree with Fizzy's comment above - if you are ready and the timing wouldn't be disasterous, just start trying. It is very hard to "aim" these things. It took us 8 months with our first, with the second I conceived 4 months in a row right off the bat, but had 3 miscarriages.

    Just be ready for the contingency plans (what happens if you don't end up taking your boards? if you have to cancel them, will it cost you $$$ or do they accept medical excuses?). It might be perfect to aim for a May-June-July baby if your boards are in early fall. But, if it takes you longer than you think, the baby might come too close to the boards, or you might be so insanely pregnant for the boards that it is not reasonable to take them.

    I was supposed to take my boards at the end of September, but did not sign up. It would be three weeks after my due date. I remember from the crazy sleep deprivation with my son that it would just not be possible for me to take them at that time, especially if this one doesn't come until 42 weeks, or if there are complications.

    I'll take them next year. It is a bummer, but my world won't end. Having the baby when I am ready is more important than even attempting the impossible task of aligning a pregnancy with the myriad of responsibilities and hoops to jump through and what-not.

  8. I agree with others. Try not to plan too much, because then you will not be able to get pregnant "on time".

    Your focus and priorities will change somewhat with a baby- so you cancel (or fail) your boards- big deal. You will recover from both possibilities.

    Do you remember being an intern and wondering what residents do all day? Then you started your second year and were much more stressed out than you expected? It is kind of the same deal when you become an attending/fellow.

    If you feel ready to start a family start trying! It will all work out.

  9. There is never a perfect career moment to have a baby. You will juggle and organize and be stressed regardless. Just decide if you and your partner are ready for parenthood and try to get as much support from family and friends as you can. That support is what makes it feasible. Good luck and enjoy!

  10. Thanks to everyone who posted comments! I appreciate all the feedback. A "good time" seems hard to find so here it goes...thanks and maybe I'll be a mother-in-medicine soon!

  11. Agree with Fizzy that "if you feel ready for a baby, try for a baby." Mainly because you never know when is the right time or what is going to happen otherwise.

    As for my own post-partum abilities to concentrate, I was somehow able to read more during that time than many (any??) other time... I was, however, consuming novels and non-fiction of my choice, not board prep books, but it can be done. Could be while feeding and in between your own somnolence and coordinated with your baby's.

    Your baby will alter the balance of so much in your life, in many incredible ways.

  12. Anon 6:01 -- Thanks for sharing your story. It made me feel so much better about my own difficulties conceiving.

  13. One other consideration for you-- be sure to factor the kind of standardized test taker that you are into this whole equation. The aforementioned advice is spot on---if and only if you do not have significant issues with test taking. I hate to be the wet blanket by mentioning this. If you just barely passed USMLE 1 or 2 or actually failed it before, having a new baby during this time could be an issue. I want to give you this to think of because I happen to know someone who failed the board under these circumstances. She'd had a long history of "just squeaking by." If this is you--give it thought.

    If you test consistently well, completely agree with Fizzy et. al. As a mommy of two who had to recertify with a new baby at home and another still in diapers, I agree that it CAN be done for sure! Motherhood can give you organization and focus like never before!

    Happy baby-making! (Woo - hoooooo!)

  14. I had my daughter in my final months of my second year of residency, took Step 3 when she was 3 months old (and sick with croup for the first time, ugh!) and took the boards a year later. I took the written boards when she was about 15 months old and she was about 22 months old when I took the oral portion.

    I have a very supportive husband and basically studied after she went to bed and on the weekends. When I was studying for my specialty boards I would go out to breakfast with my husband and daughter on Sunday mornings and then they would drop me off at the town library for the afternoon and I would study.


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