Monday, December 12, 2011

Topic Week: brief thoughts...

I struggled about what to post for topic week. I feel like I should post as a voice of one of the “not family friendly” specialties and a resident, but also I feel like I’m still so much in the middle of training that I don’t have perspective yet. So, all I have to say is this - It can be done. Its hard for all of us - pediatricians, anesthesiologist, OB/GYN’s, surgeons, residents, medical students (I’m just naming some specialties that I know mom-docs). In all honesty, I think its hard just to be a working mom of any type. But, people do it. Children survive and succeed. I love medicine and patients and surgery and I LOVE being a mom. I’m just going to keep doing my best, using my support systems, asking for help and praying that I do this right.

Also, I welcome any specific questions!


  1. I would love to hear from you! I won't be starting medical school til fall of 2012, but surgery has always been a specialty that has interested me. At 15 years old, while watching surgery, I decided I wanted to be a doctor, but this vision for medical school and residency and beyond never included a family. Surprise surprise, I now am 29, married with a 6-yo son, and we hope to have another one during medical school. My husband is currently a pediatric intern. For the past 6 years I've pretty much counted surgery out entirely because I assumed it would be impossible.

    I really loved Fizzy's post "Medicine: Not for mothers?" I found her post encouraging rather than discouraging because I know I want to practice medicine (as do/did many of you on this website) and be a mom, and will love doing both, but having had someone further down the road describe the challenges makes me feel better prepared and more confident as I head into them, eyes wide open. Reading you all write about how awesome medicine and motherhood are every minute of every day may be enjoyable but not necessarily super helpful, and it would be omitting an important part of your stories.

    I'd really love to hear some similar thoughts from you, including hours you work per week (does it get better every year of residency?), the care you and your husband have worked out for your daughter, how much your husband is able to do on the homefront etc.

    What were the experiences in medical school (and perhaps earlier) that led you to choose surgery?

    Do you experience discrimination as a woman in surgery? As a mom?

    What role did mentors play in your path to and through surgery and how did you find them?

    I know my questions aren't that specific, but I would greatly appreciate any thoughts. Thank you! I think you're awesome!

  2. Jane,

    Thanks so much for your comments! I also agree that Fizzy’s post is actually more encouraging than discouraging. The hardest thing about this is just trying to figure out what’s ahead in a real way. So, here’s my shot at answering your questions...

    First, I think its great that you’re interested in surgery, but make sure you go into medical school with an open mind. Medical school is an amazing opportunity to experience so many aspects of medicine and be open to loving something that’s not surgery. But, don’t count it out just because you have a family. I was undecided until the end.

    How long do I work a week - So, surgery residents work all 80 hours a week. Its pretty much always 80, plus additional work at home. And, it mostly gets different each year, not exactly easier. But, residency is not a sustainable way to live, and you just have to get through it and try to enjoy what you can in my opinion. I know it won’t be all roses once I’m done, but at least as an attending you have more autonomy and you can choose the structure of the job you take. Right now, I’m actually taking two years to do basic science research - so I’m more like a regular working mom (I work prob 50 hours a week + overnight call a couple of times a month).

    The childcare arrangement - My daughter is in daycare and my husband and I split up the drop offs and pick ups. He has already alerted his boss that next year he will be the sole pick up and drop off parent. He is arranging to work from home in the mornings and evenings as needed. He works at an investment firm and thankfully is senior enough to have a little flexibility. However, in all honestly, I do the most of the childcare and housework right now, so I’m a little scared of what the transition will be like. We live in a city with no family support (try not to do that!!!), so I’m currently setting up my back up - additional childcare from a couple of the daycare teachers, having a cleaning service clean our house, my mom is planning to fly up periodically to do massive meal cooking and freezing with me (she already does this when she visits). I also realize that sometimes that despite my best efforts things just won’t work and I may have to actually not come into work because no one can watch my daughter or miss rounds to pick her up. I’ve seen this happen to other surgery residents with kids (rarely, but it happens), and you just have to be unapologetic about it in my opinion, because kids or no kids, we are all people and stuff comes up. I am also open to the idea of a nanny. We are going to see how it works to do daycare once I leave the lab but if its not working, we will look into a nanny.

  3. Why I chose surgery - I didn’t really know what type of doc I wanted to be going in. I came from an investment banking career, so maybe I sort of have that surgery type personality and I like to use my hands and I’m action oriented, blah blah, but I didn’t know for sure. Surgery was actually my last rotation of 3rd year and I had planned to go into OB/GYN. I liked the idea of women’s health and the ability to operate and deliver babies, and have clinic, etc. However, I LOVED my surgery rotation. I just never wanted to leave. I would routinely stay late to stay in the OR. I liked the pace. I liked the residents and the attendings, it just felt like a fit. I could elaborate more, but my reply is already crazy long, so I’ll move on to your other questions.

    Discrimination - yes, but its not pervasive. I happen to be at a program that has a lot of female residents although that in no way erases the possibility for discrimination. Occasionally patients make ridiculous comments. I am also a black female, so I sometimes experience the discrimination in multiples. I don’t have a perfect answer except for be strong, demand to be taught, demand your place and keep fighting for what you deserve. When I interviewed for residency, one attending that was impressed with my application took me aside before I left and told me to always “make them teach you.” He said he’d seen too many promising women in surgery become “really great at organizing and such” but not really great surgeons because intentionally or not, they just weren’t taught.

    Mentors have been huge, but there is no formula to finding an amazing mentor. I will say that when you think you’ve found someone that can offer you guidance, don’t be afraid to ask for it. Ask to meet with them. Work to cultivate mentorship relationships that you feel can be valuable.

    I hope that help!!! Good luck with everything!

  4. Thank you! I thought the part about demanding to be taught was especially valuable. I am determined to remain open minded during medical school, but have some specialties I know I like after having shadowed in them (OB/Gyn being another, like you)

    I greatly appreciate you taking the time to write all of that with your family and busy schedule. You sound like a fantastic mentor. Also, major kudos to all the contributors to this website. You guys rock, and keep on fighting the good fight.


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