Hello MiM blogosphere-
I'm a surgical resident, wife, and
mother. I love planning, writing lists, checking boxes, and emailing my
husband with "action items" -- basically, the 21st-century Honey-Do
Despite all of that, I have found myself in a situation that I never planned for.
Recently, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness. Without getting too specific, it will impact how I do my job, but won't prevent me
from doing it. Think of something along the lines of Crohn's disease,
Type 1 DM, or lupus. I have to take medication, monitor my symptoms,
and go to doctors appointments. I might have to take a 5 minute break
during cases that last more than 6 hours. But, my doctors and I see no
reason why I cannot continue to provide excellent care to patients. I'm
lucky that there is even an attending surgeon at my institution who has
the same chronic illness that I do.
All that said, finding out this news has been Really Hard. It's scary, and overwhelming, and my head is spinning.
worry about where my disease will take me... What complications are in
store? How will I handle it on those days when I feel really bad? Why
isn't there a cure for this thing, yet? But, what I'm worrying about
most are the practical things...legal protections, financial expenses,
keeping insurance, dealing with a chronic illness and surgical residency
(a chronic condition in and of itself!).
So, I appeal to you all with three big questions. Maybe you've been
through something like this before? Or seen someone go through it?
1. What and how do I tell my co-residents? My attendings?
My program is hard and the hours are very long (80 hour workweek,
what??), but it's actually not all that malignant. I know my
coresidents and attendings will prioritize my health and giving me 10
minutes of self-care time during a 15-hour workday probably won't be a
big deal... But, what I really worry about is the loss of opportunities.
Like, if one of my attendings wants a resident to help with a cool
research project, but they don't ask me, reasoning that the extra work
will be too burdensome with my illness. Same thing if a good case comes
in late in the evening...what if they don't ask me to stay because of
my illness? Will all the credibility I've built up as a hard-working, excellent resident slowly be eroded by missed opportunities?
2. How do I handle this with future employers, when I apply to fellowships and ultimately attending jobs? Am
I obligated to disclose this information? My field is fairly in-demand
(at least right now), and I'm a good resident at an excellent program,
but is chronic illness a big enough 'black mark' to mar even an
otherwise exemplary CV? I'm terrified
that if I'm not the best-of-the-best--if I'm just average--my illness
will make it such that employers pass me over for someone who is totally
3. How can my husband and I protect ourselves financially from the risks of my chronic illness?
He works full-time in a well-paying field... though his salary is about
half of what my eventual attending salary will be... assuming I don't
scale back to a slower-paced practice given my situation. We always
assumed my career would be the primary one... we'd move to follow my job
prospects, I'd have the Cadillac disability insurance, he might even
eventually work part-time or stay home entirely to focus on parenting.
It seems like all of that is changing, and I'm struggling to figure out
how we should reprioritize.
Kind of a heavy post, I know... but I certainly appreciate any insights.