Monday, May 28, 2012

MiM Mailbag: Dreaming of Emergency Medicine

Hi Mothers in Medicine,

My name is Christina, and I am a recent graduate with my Masters working as a family practice physician assistant. My dream career has always been to be a doctor, specifically, an ER doc. I avoided the med school route because I knew I wanted to get married and have a family at some point. However, I wasn't in a serious relationship so this was just a distant hope. Now that I finished my Masters and still not in a serious relationship, the idea of going to medical school is still nagging at my heart.

So my question is a little different than your typical post here. I have some worries that going to med school will impede me from finding a good relationship and becoming a mother because I am so concentrated on school. I would love to hear some encouraging stories and words of advice or just good plain reality checks! Did anyone here have the same concerns? Are there any moms here that work in emergency medicine that could share their perspective with me in terms of family and being an ER doc? I am 25 years old and would be applying to medical school this year or next depending on how the MCAT goes this summer. Also, I am thinking of applying to both osteopathic and allopathic schools. Any DO ER moms that can speak about how residency was for them? I admire all of the women on this blog and hope that someday to be in your position: a physician, wife, and mother. I know it's a hard combination, but it's a blessing and is what my heart is telling me! Thank you for any advice you can share with me!



  1. I don't work in EM, but I can give you my perspective as someone who met and married my husband during med school.

    Building a relationship can be hard. It's possible in med school... a huge number of people do it, but you have to be willing to give up some of your study time for your significant other, when you meet him. I've said before that a little stress early on in a relationship is a good thing, because you need to make sure things can hold up when everything isn't perfect.

    Considering your age, you may very well decide to have kids before you finish training. That has its positives and negatives. I had a child in residency, and admittedly, there were times when I was very frustrated. It's hard. But it's doable, obviously.

    You have to ask yourself how much you want this and if it's okay that your career may sometimes get in the way of your family.

  2. I'm not in Emerg Med either. I did meet my husband in medical school. I think being in school is often a better place to meet people than when you are out working. I met my husband at an intramural volleyball game between the business school and the med school (which was fortunate, because I was very clear that I had no interest in marrying another doc-- limits conversation and social circle). We were both committed to school / our careers, so it worked out well in terms of balancing having time to ourselves and being together. We got married a couple of years into my residency training and waited 10 years to have kids (age 38).

    In sum, go ahead. And in the meantime, you'll have a great career in case you never meet the right person, and you'll be a lot more interesting in case you do.

  3. The good news is that 25 is the average age of the M1 medical student (at least at my school). It's not too late! I'm going to medical school in August so I don't have a perspective on which to advise you about relationships, but I can tell you that most of my friends in medical school have met their significant others through being in medicine, whether they are fellow medical students or nurses, etc.

    Good luck!

  4. I am in EM. I also did a toxicology fellowship and had a baby during my fellowship. I have been with my husband for 15 years (married 7 of them, just after med school graduation). I have a 2 year old boy and we're thinking about adding to our family. Relationships, even new ones, are harder in medical school and residency and as a practicing physician than for people with typical jobs because you will have to sacrifice something. While you can have it all, at times, medicine will come first and at other times, your family. It's a difficult balance - one this website explores a lot. I am lucky that my partner understands this and picks up my slack.

    Let me give you an example: This weekend, I was working the overnights (Fri-Sat-Sun). I had to make sure my husband had Memorial Day off (he did) because the daycare was closed and if he didn't, get one of our babysitters to come over while I slept - I had to do this 2 months ago when schedule requests were due - I know in advance which holidays I am working (just not which shifts, this coming year I am working Labor Day, Christmas and Easter - next year will be July 4th, Thanksgiving, New Years and Memorial Day). I was able to make dinner every night but lunch and breakfast were up to the boys. My husband and son went to a minor league baseball game and the park to keep my 2 year old busy. And my husband had to get used to taking my son out without me - doing diapers, bath time, bedtime, meals, all without me. We had quality time together in the afternoon and after dinner, but bedtime is 7pm and my son has a meltdown if it's much later than that.

    I recommend you looking for residency programs (when you get there) that have women for attendings - women with kids, women without kids, women of various ages. It helps to see how they manage different life issues at different stages (trying to conceive through grandchildren). Again, I was lucky - my program had all stages including women who didn't want children.

    I honestly believe that EM is great for families because when you're at work, you're working and when you're not, you're not. On my three shifts, I took care of the STEMI, intermittent VTach, 2 acute strokes (one got TPA), appendicitis, threatened miscarriages, hypotensive traumas, and various other complaints. I then went home and slept and hung out with my family. Because I was also on toxicology call, I did get interrupted a few times with phone calls but nothing serious, nothing I returned to the hospital for. The caveat is you can't go into EM for the'll burnout. It's holidays and weekends and overnights for the rest of your career. It's knowing you need a babysitter and a daycare (in my case) or a nanny (others) or family nearby (others still) who can watch the kids. It's coordinating schedules all the time (THANK YOU GOOGLE CALENDAR!). It's losing control over the patient once they are admitted and sometimes not getting the diagnosis right.

    And as far as being DO vs MD - there are DO EM programs and most MD EM programs will interview you too - you may just end up applying to more, sometimes a lot more (ask your school). Being from Philadelphia, there was a large DO school there so most of the programs did not really care, especially if you were from that school. And 3 of my attendings and 2 of my co-residents were DOs - I would have never guessed unless they told me. I think more and more the line between DO and MD is getting blurred.

  5. Forgive me for speaking up, I'm a guy. But I'm a former (well I still moonlight) Emergency Medicine PA now starting my 4th year of DO school and my wife is a MD (Pediatrician). We have been married 12 years, together 14 (we met when my wife was a resident), and we now have an 11 year old boy, and a 9 year old girl. We have a pretty awesome life. I would echo a lot of what Susan said...everything is harder when you are a physician, the amount of flexibility you have to bring to the relationship is tremendous, and you have to have a partner who is unequivocally willing to share parenting (and you have to be willing to share, something that doesn't come easy to some moms.) That being said, it can be done, and there are a lot a people in my med school making it work, either with their new relationships or established ones. Make sure you have a support network and be open with friends and family for help. It can be done. Sometimes it's hard as hell, but my wife and I wouldn't change anything, and neither would our kids. As for being a DO, honestly, the most it means for me is that my wife teases me about being (almost) one! As Susan said, the line between DO and MD is getting narrower. I can agree more, with Susan's comment: "you can't go into EM for the'll burnout" because the flip-side of shift work is just that, nights and weekends. Honestly, the work you'll do as an EM doc is more stressful than you generally will do as an EM PA, and from what Iv'e seen the hours are worse. (No disrespect to any PA's out there, I have 12+ years experience as a PA and am a Distinguished Fellow of the AAPA) Bottom line is, I would give you a healthy dose of reassurance that it can be done (with just a dash of Susan's realism). Best of luck to you. Crush those MCAT's!

  6. I was initially a little confused by your question, because at first it seemed like you were asking whether it's possible to find a husband in med school/training. The answer to that question is: OF COURSE!!! Not only that, it's possible to have happy, healthy relationships and be a doctor at the same time. Also, you can have kids. I don't think any of this is all that earth shattering.

    But then I re-read your question and I wondered.... Are you turning to medicine as a back up career to being a stay at home mom since the husband hasn't materialized yet? If not, and you are truly passionate about becoming a doctor and can't see yourself happy in any other career, then go for it. If on the other hand, you really want to be a SAHM and that is truly your #1 goal in life, then I'd reconsider medicine. There are people who make part time doctoring work, who spend 4 days with their kids, and three days at work each week. But it can be difficult because of the debt load people take on, especially if your husband doesn't also have a well paying job, or if you want a lot of kids.

    Just my 2 cents.

  7. Emergency medicine is great. Nothing like saving lives and working with other adrenaline junkies. ;)

    Note, I got married during med school but didn't have kids during residency. YMWV.

    You need a good babysitter/nanny. Shift work is hard--my husband's got the regular job, so he's the one who picks them up and drops them off whenever I'm working. My sleep schedule is screwed up. But I can do swim lessons on Wed afternoon sometimes, and I can take them to play dates (mom benefits), but I can also earn coin doing everything from STEMIs to foot slivers at any time of day or night (doctor benefits).


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