Monday, January 7, 2013

MiM Mail: Surgeon versus family

I am so happy to have found this website!

I've been so torn between having a family and becoming a surgeon. All my life, I've wanted to become a surgeon, and I've never imagined myself doing anything else. However, family is super important to me and nothing would make me happier than being able to pass on my knowledge to a child or two. Given my career goals, I probably would only be able to have one child. But I'm still so confused about whether or not I should even have children. I love children but am too young to really gauge whether or not I want one of my own.

I plan on taking a few gap years between undergrad and med school, however even after two years out of undergrad, I'll only be 23 -- I don't know if this will be enough time for me to even find love, let alone a supportive husband and potential father of my children! I don't know if I want to extend my gap from two years to five so I can start a family. I don't know if I should wait until I'm out of residency. I just don't know. And I've found it so hard to seek guidance. Your website helps so much.

It's crazy how much my passion will impact my ability to have a family. But I'm learning so much just going through the blogs, and I'm looking forward to hearing more from you all. I'm so glad I'm not alone.

By the way, I'm 19 and a sophomore in college.

19 comments:

  1. Congrats on your ambitious plans.

    At 19, it's time to focus on yourself and your education. If you find a partner you love and want to have children with, great. If not, you'll have yourself and an education, and probably more time.

    A bit of bad news: you can't pass knowledge on to your kids. You can love and care for them, but knowledge they have to learn themselves, and sometimes they do that by rebelling against their parents.

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  2. I read this and went away thinking "God, at 19, I wanted to be a cardiothoracic surgeon and get married to someone who didn't want kids. No kids ever. No other speciality ever." This has pretty much been my mantra since I was 10. Fast forward, a dozen or so years and I am married to a guy I met 6 months after my 19th birthday, who wanted kids. I worked for a year under a CT surgeon and hated his life and his job but got exposed to other fields of medicine. I am now an Emergency physician (which I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE) with my 2nd kid on the way.

    My moral: Life changes. You change. And thank god, we do and it does. Who wants a bunch of 19 year olds running things?

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  3. It's great that you know what your career plans are already - not too many people your age have that! I'm a third year medical student and have one kid. I got married in my early 20s and had my son a few years afterwards, and I'm really glad that I did - it makes med school so much harder (not that it's easy to begin with), but I have a grounded life that is totally unrelated to medicine, which is very rewarding. It's also true that there's never a good time to have kids . So, my advice, is to go for it when you think you're ready. You might find your path in life taking directions that you didn't anticipate (I certainly have, and I'm not that much older than you!), but it's important to make the most of whatever life hands you. Good luck!

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  4. Umm... I could be misinterpreting this post, but are you saying you want to take several gap years so that you can find a husband and have children? I'm an interviewer for medical school and residency and this reason for several gap years would never be acceptable. Gap years are for doing research, international relief work, training for the Olympics--stuff that you want to accomplish before starting medical school. Unintentional gap years are also okay, such as, I didn't get into med school right out of college, but I worked as an EMT while studying to retake the MCAT, and now my application is improved. And it's not necessary to take a gap year either. Please read Sheryl Sandberg's Barnard commencement speech--do not limit yourself before you even have a husband or kids.

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  5. Dont limit yourself by something you dont even have yet; work towards your surgeon goal and who knows what will happen in the mean time!

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  6. My advice is to save this post, because it will sound adorable to yourself when you read it six years from now :) For now, you should focus on getting to med school, then worry about your specialty. When I was your age, I didn't even know the specialty I'm in existed.

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  7. You are not alone in this dilemma. This post touched a nerve for me. I am further along the med school road than you are, but I’m in the process of making a similar decision. I’m a third med student in my mid to late twenties, single and without any children, and am weighing whether to do surgery (which I love) or not. At the moment, I am almost certain I will go into general surgery but honestly it is still a choice that really scares me. It’s not the long hours or the “surgical culture” that turn me off, it’s the fear that somehow going into a surgical residency at my peak childbearing years will diminish my chances of meeting the right person and having children.

    I know this fear isn’t entirely rational (maybe there is some truth to it) and I know I have no idea where the future will take me, but for months I have felt bogged down by these ruminations on family and the future. I have felt this glass ceiling of fear holding me back and it’s really frustrating, especially since I have already devoted so many years to pursuing medicine. A lot of my female med school friends are also going through this dilemma as well and it is disheartening to see women who would make talented surgeons turn it down because of similar fears. Yet, if I were a guy, I wouldn’t be having this internal debate about surgery. I’d probably just go for it.

    My advice is to not give up on being a surgeon. Keep chugging along down that path and see where you end up. Fears about family vs. career will likely still be something mulling over in the years to come. Just don't let them hold you back from doing something that you love. Best of luck and thanks for posting.

    FYI - here is a link to Sheryl Sandberg's Barnard speech. It is fabulous and well worth a watch. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AdvXCKFNqTY

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  8. I finished high school at 16 and college at 20 (about like you, sounds like). I wanted to be a psychologist but couldn't get a good enough score on the GRE (twice, I winged it both times) so went to med school by default after 2.5 years of post college pre-med courses and got in early decision. Then I wanted to be a psychiatrist, then an ophthalmologist, but despite the nerdy vibe dove into pathology because I could tell I was a natural and I loved it. I met the med student, married him, had the house, the girl, and the boy, and now I am a single mom of two and am happier than I have ever been.

    As those said above, try not to plan. I was/am a planner, too. Got a little too stuck in my plan without looking out for my own happiness. Go with the flow and have fun. Life's going to happen no matter how hard you try to plan it - I'm finding that out at 39! Good luck to you. Go for your passion.

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  9. Good for you for having ambitious goals!

    I share your love of surgery; I still love doing it more than 11 years into my neurosurgical practice. However, you need to temper the passion with some practicality.

    First, remember that any gaps in your career will have to be explained in detail for the rest of your life. That means med school and residency applications as well as applications for hospital privileges. Also, even if you take a five year gap, there is no guarantee you will meet your future husband during that time. (I met mine in my class in med school.) If you take a year or more off, do something interesting and relevant with the time.

    It is possible to be a surgeon and have a family. But it is HARD! Don't abandon your career passion and settle for less, but be prepared for lots of difficulties. When you meet Mr. Right, make SURE he knows what he's getting into marrying a surgeon and make SURE he's OK with that. If he's not OK with that, he's not Mr. Right.

    I agree with what others have said about life happening and rolling with the flow. There are so many things you can't predict or control that will happen in your life. And you probably won't recognize yourself 10-15 years from now, you'll have changed so much. Have your long term plan, but be flexible and keep an open mind. You might fall in love with pathology or PM&R or who knows what other awesome field down the road.

    Best of luck, and I hope you find happiness on your journey!

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    1. Wow. You are managing to balance neurosurgery, a physician spouse, and children? Good for you. What an amazing role model you are.

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  10. I am in the exact same position that you are. I too am a college sophomore, and I've been thinking the same thing! I think I'm going to see if having a child would fit between MS2 and MS3. From what I've read, there is a natural break between these two years and it is possible to take some time off. Depending on my situation, I would also debate having a child earlier before med school, but I would work in a research lab or something to further my education/career during this time.

    Good luck to both of us!! I'm glad to know I'm not the only person worried about this!

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    1. I had no plan as a sophomore- was still debating med school as a reality- but always knew that I wanted to take a year off to travel, before starting medical school (or any future plans). I ended up meeting my now-husband junior year, graduated a semester early, and took a year and half off before med school. During that time, I lived abroad (my husband is not American and was finishing school overseas), took the MCAT, worked in various international hospitals (volunteering, clinical research), applied to med school, and had my daughter 3 months before starting school. (Interviewing pregnant is another story) That was totally NOT my plan, but I could not have wished for better.

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  11. I hate that only women *have* to think about it. 19 year old men who want to become surgeons and husbands don't think these things, ever. They just assume it'll happen when (not if) it does.

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  12. When I was in college, I thought I was going to meet the perfect guy, get married, then go to med school. Well, Mr. Right didn't come along until I was 33 and already established as a family physician. We now have an almost 2 year old and we're having baby #2 next week. I'm 37 now. Don't put your career on hold to find Mr. Right because maybe he is somewhere that you aren't even going to look at this point. As someone else said, you might think you want to be a surgeon now, but things can change there, too. Plus, if you wait you will be even older when you are done with residency. If your future husband is out there, you will find him eventually! There is absolutely no rush!

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  13. Do not take a gap year to find Mr. Right! You will be miserable. Have fun, travel, see the world. Date many people, find out whose company you enjoy.

    Medicine will be there when you return, and you can't force the timing of marriage,etc.

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  14. I commend you for thinking far in advance about what your priorities are and what your priorities may be in the future and how to balance your passions and your priorities. I will echo some of the other folks here by saying: thinking about these things is important, but planning life 5, 10, 15, or 20 years into the future is impossible. There are some things you can plan in life but passion is not one of them and this applies to both career and love. When I was your age, I thought I was going to be a poet. I landed a great job in publishing but something was missing. I answered a mass email about studying to become a childbirth coach and, long story short, now I'm a pediatrics intern with a one-year-old (took five years "off", never hurt me in a single interview). The wonderful person I was with when I graduated college is now a close friend and I am married to someone else who fits me in ways I never would have predicted in college. All you can do in life is go where your current passion takes you and be open to surprises. Be prepared to be flexible because you will surprise yourself and life will surprise you! This probably sounds like hippy-dippy advice, but it is meant to be practical -- you don't want to miss your true calling because you are otherwise occupied.

    As far as taking time off to find love, consider that you want to find someone who will fit with your life in the future. If you want to be a doctor who is also a parent, that means finding someone who will share in household and child-rearing work and who will not be threatened by a strong and successful partner. Your chances of finding such a person may be higher once you are engaged in your own education and career building. Many people meet their partners during medical training and many people end up marrying fellow physicians. There is just no predicting love so it is important to focus on your own growth and development.

    As far as balancing parenting and career goes, it takes a lot of planning and self sacrifice, but I have seen it done successfully by people across the medical specialties, including surgery. I have also seen burned out, bitter, angry people in every specialty who have not found a good formula for keeping themselves happy. Rather than focusing on which specialty is more family friendly, consider interviewing people you meet along the way who seem to have found a way to make their lives work for them and collect tips. If you are strong and know what is important to you (and you have a good partner who is willing to share the work!) you can be a wonderful parent in any field.

    Best of luck!

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  15. I'm a little late to the conversation, but wanted to chime in because this post reminded me of myself (as many of you have said!). I remember being a senior in college, about to start a post-bac premed program (I studied anthropology as an undergrad), and having a serious days-long freak-out about how to balance everything I wanted out of life. The career I was just beginning to learn about, the kids I knew I wanted some day, the relationship/marriage with someone I had not even met yet. The best advice I can give is that the world (even in medicine) is more flexible than you can ever imagine.

    I ended up meeting an amazing guy in my post-bac program, but we did not get into med school in the same place (or even the same year). We survived long-distance, I took a year out of med school to do research and we got married, and we are now both in the process of matching, him in EM, me in surgery. We have both wanted kids since forever but will need to wait a few more years until my research years in residency. I have friends in med school who had kids before starting, and during fourth year. I have others who are also waiting until gaps in residency or afterwards. One of the things I struggle with daily (especially right now as the Match process forces us to voice all our plans for the future aloud to each other!) is how much weight to put on the needs of as-yet-unborn children. Should we do residency near family so that they can help us three years down the road? Etc. etc.

    As others have said, focus on getting into med school first. That is the first, and a huge, barrier. Once there, many schools will be flexible even to the point of letting you take a year off for research, which can also be used as a maternity leave. But get there first. You never know when or how you will meet your partner.

    (That being said, I am a HUGE advocate of taking 1-2 years off before medical school so long as you are doing something interesting that will help you in the long run professionally!)

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