Friday, December 16, 2011

Mothers in Medicine

My perspective on being a mother in medicine is a little different than those which have been posted earlier this week. I’ve been at this now for almost two decades, but vividly recall the times when my children were much younger. I have worked 80 hour weeks and been on call 20 weeks out of the year. I have been a pregnant resident. I have been a pregnant attending. This is what I have learned through the years.

All specialties are conducive to raising a family.
No specialty is family friendly.
Wait, what?

Being a mother in medicine is a study in duality. It is the best of times. It is the worst of times.
It is the pride of juggling three, four, five – more – items in a seemingly effortless manner; it is the guilt and defeat when everything crashes around you. It is the memory of your child proudly proclaiming (to anyone who will listen) “This is my mom – she’s a brain doctor!” followed by the innocent (but cutting) comment that “There are lots of moms who stay home with their kids and don't go to work.” It is the sense of relief that you are *finally* home in time for good night stories lined up back to back with the mortification of being shaken awake by your three-year-old shouting “No, Mom! Officer Flossie doesn’t say SNRKK! Read it right!” and recognizing that you’ve fallen asleep mid-sentence. It is ticking off the “to-do” list that you carry in your head at all times and yet – despite the satisfaction of knowing that before 8AM you’ve cleaned two bathrooms, started a load of laundry, fed and dressed three children, got everyone off to school – still feeling the disgrace of arriving at the office 10 minutes late and realizing you’re already behind for the day.

Early in my career, I felt that in order to prove I was a good doctor I had to show my dedication to my job. Putting in long hours I missed more room parties than I attended. I was physically present for my children at the end of most days, but I was exhausted. And I finally recognized that exhausted me wasn’t good for anyone. So I tried to change. It was hard – hard to change the sense that I was somehow shirking if I made it home before 7P on a weekday, hard to change the assumption of my colleagues that I would always be the one who would stay late and pick up the case in the ER. But I found a position that allowed me to grow - as a physician and as a mother. I learned that it was the support of those around me that gave me the opportunity to thrive in my job and at home. I’m not alone in this recognition - it is this support system that is mentioned in almost every essay that has been posted this week. Many have already noted that it’s hard to have everything. Working moms make sacrifices to do what we feel called to do – whether we are in medicine or not. Balancing these sacrifices is the joy and love from (and for) our children, and satisfaction from knowing we have performed a job well done.

Therefore, every residency and specialty has the potential to be the best one for you as you raise a family – or the worst. Look at the support system that comes with the program and then decide. And remember that no matter how good or bad one day is, the next is likely to be the opposite.

It is the best of times. It is the worst of times. Today, I wouldn't trade my experiences for the world. Just don't ask me the same question tomorrow.


  1. Amen to this post! It is so important to be the one to actively fight against letting the bad days drag you down into the "worst of times." Thank you for writing, Artemis!

  2. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  3. I loved this! And I'm reading lots of officer flossy lately myself! My son loves his "huckle books"


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