Monday, June 25, 2012

MiM Mailbag: Do single moms go to medical school?

Dear Mothers in Medicine,

I have been a VERY long follower of your blog and after reading a few pre-med blog posts find myself wondering if you could give me some advice.

I am a new mother (my baby is 9 months) who has been trying to achieve my dream of medical school for a while. I have a degree in Biology, publications, a TON of research experience (some of which is at an Ivy League school) but because I was an international student, I couldn't guarantee funds for medical school after graduation and hence my application was not accepted. Right away I pursued nursing school as a venue to receive permanent residence in US. I was successful and shortly after graduation resumed studying for the MCAT while working part-time as an RN. Unfortunately, my MCAT score was not good enough to get in (it had been a *few* years since my classes). Being in my late 20s, my OB doctor stated if my husband and I wanted to have children, due to potential complications from some of my health issues, I should achieve pregnancy sooner or later. A year later, we have a baby.

Sadly, my (also in his late 20s) young husband wasn't prepared for a responsibility of having a baby and filed for divorce not too long ago. So, here I am, in what seems like a disastrous situation - a former pre-med hopeful, now a single mom trying to make ends meet with a 9-month-old. I am sure there are worse situations out there, but I am completely bummed as to what I should do. I refuse to give up my dream, but yet, I often wonder do single moms go to medical school? To make matters worse, I reside in a state where my parents don't live and because the divorce is here, my husband is going to restrict my relocation, hence family support will not exist (not physical one in any case).

I often wonder if I should retake the science classes from scratch? I'm afraid to seek guidance of a pre-med counselor because they will just want me to forget it.

Any help/advice would be greatly appreciated. I am trying to explore all my options and not give up hope...

Thank you.



  1. I hate to be a downer and tell you not to follow your dream, but from what you're telling me, I just can't visualize how it would work. A 9 month old baby is very demanding... who would watch the baby while you're studying? You say you have no family nearby. Do you have the monetary resources to provide childcare for all the hours you need to study or be at clinicals? Would your husband be able to do it?

    My instinct is to tell you that you should probably put your dream aside for a few years, until your baby is older.

    Also, I think you should think hard about the reasons why you want to be a doctor. It would be much easier for you to become an NP and you'd get to do many of the things doctors do. I know a lot of NPs who do research and while they don't have full autonomy, the good ones are very well respected.

  2. What Fizzy said.

    Becoming a dr would defer any real job / income for about 10 years. Your child would require round the clock childcare for much of that time. Unless you are independently wealthy or you have family that is willing to provide that for you, I just don't see med school as a viable option for you over the next several years.

    My understanding is that you can become an NP while working as an RN, so it seems like that path could provide you the income you need, with the expanding career prospects you desire. As Fizzy said, NPs can do much of what drs do, and are highly respected.

  3. I think you need to find another single mother who is doing it (or better yet, has done it) to get the most useful take on it. But as Fizzy & OMDG said, the cost of providing childcare (including weekends & overnight at times, for when you are on call during clinical rotations) for an infant/toddler when you have no income will absolutely be the prohibiting factor. If you have means to manage that (savings, ex-husband, family),'ll still be very very hard, and will require an iron will and a lot of resolve to leave your young child to go study nearly every night & weekend (which you really should be doing if you want to succeed). The NP route sounds extremely reasonable---you can work during the schooling/training, don't have to do a residency so end up making a really really good salary immediately, and can choose a specialty, research, etc... again, without having to do fellowship or other training. No call, rarely weekends---much much better lifestyle for a young mother.

  4. Hmmm....being an NP is no easy slog either... my advice to you is to hang onto your dream- you are still young. Work as an RN, take some refresher courses, nail that MCAT and apply to med school in a few years when your daughter starts preschool/school. That might also allow you to find a way to be nearer to your support network (ie parents)- I don't know a lot of family court judges that wouldn't support you being closer to your family to allow you to pursue higher education...just a thought.

    You have all kinds of time, and you might be glad you waited and spent these years with your daughter. RN wage is a good wage, and I wouldn't spend money on NP education unless that is what you really want. Good luck to you K. Wishing you all the best.

    1. As a 32yo single mother of a 3yr old and a first year med student, I have to agree with this piece of advice, your dreams are achievable, it's just timing that is the issue. You will enjoy these first couple (3-4) years raising your LO, then when they're off to school, so are you. Its also a constant visual/lesson that your child will learn subconsciously about hard work and persistence while watching you go through school. Meanwhile, delve back into studying, prep courses etc.. Prior to the MCAT.

      There are also University PostGrad bridge programs that cover /refresh you on all med school prereqs ( approx 2yr program) and some offer a smoother admission process to their Medical School

  5. Hi! I am a single mother who just finished medical school. I would be happy to chat with you through email, if you're interested. Please feel free to let KC know, and she knows how to get ahold of me. Also, you can read the posts I have written on here (click on the MomTFH link in the labels to the right-->) or read my blog at Not all of my posts are about being a single mom, obviously, but it is my constant reality as I write. As I hope you have discovered, it is easier and harder to be a single mom than you may have expected, and it does not dominate all of my thoughts, conversations and interactions.

    OK, on to your questions. Let's start with the simpler one. I took the MCAT after being out of the basic science classes for several years, too. I used a single review book and did OK. I happen to be a good test taker. If I had a time machine (Oh, geez! the things I could fix!) I would have taken a review course and probably scored higher. I think taking a targeted MCAT review would be higher yield for you than retaking all of your premed. That will also take quite a while. But, if you think having domestic good grades will improve your chances of admission, it's definitely an option.

    As for RN vs. NP vs. being a physician, that is really up to you, and I don't think there is an easy answer to that. There are many days in which I wish I had the time machine and could go back and be an NP, but I may be a unique case. I am older than you, I want to go into obstetrics, and I didn't match into residency last year. If I was a nurse practitioner / midwife, I could be working already, no residency required, and be doing everything I want to do as a doctor (I am not super gung ho about being a lead surgeon and am more interested in low risk obstetrics, obviously, but there are plenty of NPs that assist in the OR, just don't lead surgeries).

    Obviously, yes, single mothers do go to medical school. I was pleasantly surprised at the diversity in my class. I sat next to a grandmother all of 2nd year, and I was not the only single mom in my class. Also, single mothers do a lot of things that take them away from their kid(s). Many single moms work outside the home for long hours and have to rely on different forms of help and childcare. And, most of these single moms are not pursuing a life long dream, one that will most likely provide financial security and a fulfilling career. Moms have guilt, single moms have guilt. I don't let that keep me from pursuing my career in medicine.

    Medical school is not a bad situation to be in as a single mom. Especially the first two years. There are many schools that even stream most of the classes online, and do not have an attendance policy for many of the classes (mine did). Your clinical years may be more difficult. Your schedule can change from month to month, and I have had to ask a caregiver to show up at my house at 4:30 am some months so I can get to my rotation on time. Even more difficult, my schedule would change in a month. My kids were in school and had after school care from a trusted family member, so my main issue was the early mornings.

    As for being able to handle it, I was the president of more than one extracurricular club. I won a research fellowship and full tuition scholarship. I was recommended and inducted into the humanism honors society by one of my attendings / professors. I qualified for the regular honors society, but I won't go into the political BS that kept me from that group. I aced my boards and never failed a class. I am not just tooting my horn here; I am telling you that, if you work hard and have the aptitude and right attitude, you will do well.

    Continued in a second reply due to length restrictions...

  6. I have written on my blog about my sometimes frustration with some of my former classmates. These are things my single, childless classmates have told me: I gave up using any washable dishes or glasses during medical school because I don't have time to do any dishes. I gave up my dog to my parents during board review because I can't take care of it. I don't have time to do _____ activity or ______ club. I didn't have time to take the required scrub class before rotations started because I wanted to go on a vacation. I need to take off a month because I am planning a wedding. I can't make the meeting at that time because that's when I nap. (Yes, for real) I would see some of these same students go to yoga 3 times a week, or party frequently, or get their mani/pedi once a week, or watch every episode of the Jersey Shore, or make what ever bargains or compromises they chose. So do I. (Make compromises. I don't do any of those things on the list. I have a dog and two cats, I cook and use real dishes and plates, and I don't get to work out often if at all, watch much TV, or take care of my fingernails, hairdo or other beauty routines often. I also schedule my naps, rare as they are, around my obligations, not the other way around). So will you, compromise, that is, regardless of your path.

    As for divorce, moving, family support - that stuff is not easy. If you email me and are up for it, I can regale you with the soap opera that was my divorce and coparenting (they don't call it custody anymore) agreement, and the sacrifices I had to make to be able to move if I matched out of the area. Single parents relocate all the time for many reasons. It is not fair to expect every single parent to remain, forever, in a 50 mile radius of where they divorced. There are a lot of moving parts to this, and I could write more words than this entire post already (seriously not kidding) about it. A lot of this depends on your ex. This battle was infinitely harder than medical school for me.

    Anyway, I hope this wasn't too much, and was helpful in some way. Good luck, and please keep us up to date.

    1. Wow that's inspiring to know you have done it with all the co-parenting, etc. in place. I am a single mother of 3 small children and am looking to go abroad with them to med school. I don't think it will be easy but this is my life long dream. Having a family was also a dream. My career will help me be a better mom once I sacrifice and embrace the journey which is a promising one.

    2. I am also a Single mother going into the medical field... stressing about how I can do it and if we will survive.. im still working on my bachelor's but could really use some advise if you don't mind emailing me?? I would really appreciate any time that you can spare me.

      thank you

    3. I'm also a single mother in medical school. I agree basically with the above poster, but I would only add that it is very important to go beyond "this is my dream" in your thinking. From the pre-med side, it's easy to put the physician role on a pedestal. What is it about that role that would be worth the debt, the hard work, the time away from your kids, etc. Could you get that from another job (mid-level, scientist, nurse, social worker, health care administrator, etc.)?

      There's no doubt this is possible. However, I'm not completely sure I'd sign up again knowing what I know now. Maybe. I do love what I do. I have a lot of support, and I think my kids are living good lives. But by the time I finish residency, my oldest will be going off to college herself. I think I could have done other work that was rewarding, been able to actually save some money for her college, buy a home, and had some free time to do things like take family vacations or lead a girl scout troop. At the same time, I get to make priorities and I've been there for most stuff. I guess I'm just trying to say that it depends what you really want. I think it can be appealing to follow a dream or set challenging goals sometimes just for the sake of it. Nothing wrong with that. But over the 10 yrs or so it will take to get where you are going, you will need to know that there's something more to this path that really makes it worth it for you.

  7. From a mid-level perspective: I wanted to point out that there is a woman in my PA class who has a 2 year old, and is a single mom with little help. She told me she has built up a network of trusted babysitters. She says that she has anxiety about how much she takes out in loans to cover childcare. It's not easy, but it's doable However this is a 2.5 year intensive program, vs a 4 year program + residency.

    Good luck, and stay strong through the times ahead.

  8. Although I did not go through medical school as a single mom, I went through part of residency as one, and like the above responders, I would very carefully consider what your sources of support, both income-wise and babysitting-wise will be, if you choose to do this. The first two years of med school would be do-able with an infant/toddler, I think, but with overnight call during your third and fourth years, and with overnight call during residency, it can be potentially rough without significant family support; and if family is unavailable to help near-by, then some serious financial soul-searching will need to take place. Also bear in mind that financial arrangements between your ex-spouse and yourself may also either help/hinder the situation. Also, depending on how amicable your separation is from your spouse, be careful about custody arrangements: my ex-spouse tried to use my resident physician work hours as justification for sole physical custody of our infant, claiming that it made me an "unfit" mother to have to spend 80 hours/wk at work.

    I don't think becoming a physician is impossible as a single mom - just certainly incredibly challenging without social resources and some financial support. Best of luck!

  9. I am not a MiM writer, but I am a mother in medical school that goes to school with a few single moms (one pursuing her MD/PhD with a 2 year old in a state with no family). I also have a mentor that started med school as a single mom. I think that having a support system to help you will be the ultimate determinant of your success. I actually started a series on my blog ( called "See It Do It" where I interview moms in medical school on how they make it work. Talking to a single mom in medical school when I found out I was pregnant in undergrad with no degree yet, no husband, and hardly any plan was what gave me the courage to go for it. The most important thing is seeing how you can get some help. I wish you the best!

  10. Momstinfoilhat, what a great inspiration you are! Thank you for writing your comment. I am not a single mother, but I do have a six month old baby and I am going to complete my prerequisites at a university soon, then begin the long journey of the MCAT, applications and hopefully interviews. I was hoping I could find someone that had a child that successfully went through medical school, clinically, etc. thank you so much for giving me great insight and encouragement. I will always remember this post and will probably bookmark the page so that I can come back on the hard days. Continued success to you!

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  12. Definitely wait until your child is 3 or 4 years old and worry about it then. Babies are very difficult . Toddlers are too. Do not tell yourself you can do much of anything while caring for little kids. However, preschool and kindergarten and elementary school they like to be with other children in social environments playing and interacting with other kids more than they like to be with mommy. Your years of knowledge and experience will not expire. Sounds like you have a great medical and science background.

  13. Hi everyone. I'm in a very difficult predicament. Have 3 kids at age 27. Never been to college and now I'm coming to the conclusion that I really want to pursue my dream as a physician hence I now have a ton of help and support from family. Has anyone started out this late? my kids ages are 3,7,10..any advice Is greatly appreciated.!

    1. Hi Cece, I am in a similar situation. I didn't finish college and I am now wanting to go back to become a physician. I have a 4 year old who is in preschool, and family around to help, but being 28 I wonder what it will look like for me! Feel free to message me, I'd love to talk!

  14. Hi,
    I am less than 2 months away from graduating as a NP. I am a single mom. It has been tough, but doable. My mentor (a DO) has encouraged me to go back to medical school. I am happy to have read this blog, because I have gained confidence that I can actually do this.

  15. I am 37 and waited for my daughter to turn 16 before pursuing my dreams of being a MD that specializes in geriatric care.

    I have just this year started a 7 year journey. I have to complete a 3yr bachelor of Health Science and then a 4yr MD degree. Its time consuming, I work 2 jobs, study full time and hang with my awesome kid and I wouldn't change a thing. I am thoroughly enjoying everything, even my shitty bar job because I am in control of my own destiny and I am working towards something really positive.

    I am so proud of myself for putting my own dreams on hold as it was a sacrifice that I will never regret. I have such a solid relationship with my daughter and to me that is the most important thing that I will ever do with my life.

    I have been married, divorced, homeless, bankrupt and worked crappy low paying jobs for years just to make ends meet, but now it's my time to shine.

    What ever you choose is right for you and your family, will be ok. Do your research and really think long and hard about all of the variables. When you take control of your life and commit to your dreams, the universe will conspire to help you on your way. Just listen to your intuition and always believe in yourself.

  16. Good for you JJJ! Yes, it is your time to shine and I am sure you will do very well! I can very much relate to you on many things that you had stated. The only main exception is that I have three children ages 16, 11, and 6. I am proud of you and its only 10 years right!? The older you get the faster it goes, so why not?

    I am 38 and a single divorced mother of three. I am in my third year of a BioMedical Sciences degree and looking forward to taking the MCAT. When I started my journey 3 years ago I was married to a man (whom I met and married right out of high school) who tried for a very long time to keep me down. Often telling me how worthless and stupid I was. Unfortunately I believed him and the dream or thought I once had in high school of becoming a doctor seemed unattainable. Finally after fifteen years, I snapped out of it and decided to start my path to becoming a physician. I no longer listened to the negativity that came from my husband or even myself at times. Since I have started going back to school my now ex-husband left me and filed for divorce leaving us with nothing. I was a stay at home mom and did not have a college degree and found that finding a job that could support my children and I seemed impossible. On top of that my ex had our car repossessed and paid little to no child support. Life was hard, we lived in shelters and with friends (I have no family here in this state, so no real family support). Luckily I found a very flexible job and was able to get our lives back on track.

    Fast forward to today; I have just finished my semester with a 4.0 and my overall GPA so far is a 3.94. I absolutely love being not only the best parent I can be but the best student I can be as well. Its not easy working, taking care of kids/home, and being full time student. Time management has been an acquired but most valued skill. Despite the hardships, I have found a way. I still have a way to go, but I am doing it. It still amazes me, how life can change and what we are capable of doing if we set our minds to it. I am following my heart, no longer being lead by fear. Love is far more comforting and enduring than fear.

  17. I am a 29 year old single mother of a 2.5 year old, and I am currently in my second year of medical school. It is do-able, but it is difficult. The worst part that I have been experiencing isn't even managing my daughter while trying to study simultaneously, but it's the financial strain. The government doesn't take into account that some single parents are not currently receiving child support from their ex, and they don't seem to care about how that may affect your ability to focus and do well. If you can get yourself financially stable to be able to do school, then do it. If you can get family support to help you out with babysitting so you don't have to pay for it and can rely on it, that would be best. Don't halt your dreams, and don't listen to anyone else who has not been in your shoes, or in MINE!


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