Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A post for those in the trenches with us...

This post is for my husband and my beautiful daughter.

To my daughter:

Thank you for running and screaming "MOM-MIEEEEE" with complete happiness and joy each time I make it in time to pick you up from daycare.  Thank you for your constant big beautiful smile.  Thank you for thriving despite my many absences and nights on call.   Thank you for telling me "I love you mommy,"" GOOD JOB mommy" (one of her favorites), and "com wit me" with your outstretched little hand.  Thank you for this unconditional love.  Thank you for changing my life and making me whole.

To my husband:

Thank you for coming to meet me as I sob to you through post call tears at the violence I unfortunately sometimes see the results of.  Thank you for coming home for lunch every day I'm post call and bringing me lunch, tucking me in and putting on soft relaxing music.  Thank you for allowing me the complete and utter assurance that my precious baby girl is always remarkably cared for in my absence.  Thank you for going on this journey with me.  Thank you for surviving the many bumps we encounter.  I believe we can make it through.  Thank you for making me whole.

Monday, February 25, 2013

MiM Mail: Path for a military wife

Hello Mothers in Medicine!

I was googling for possible stories of women who finished medical school then put off residency training for marriage and family. I came upon your site, sorted the mailbag and found none similar to my problem. I hope the lovely ladies of medicine can help me sort out my options.

You see, I'm an IMG (graduated 3 years ago) non-US citizen who married the love of my life a year ago. What makes this even more complex is that my husband is committed to the US military where he can really have a promising career. We currently live outside the US for his work, but we will moving back in a few months.

As for me, I am unemployed because all medical jobs on base require US citizenship. Off-base jobs require fluency in a language I barely even know. But, I currently work for a major non-profit organization as a medical volunteer, with the idea of having something to put my resume in mind. I am taking Step 1 in a few weeks and I'm already going crazy. What more if we have kids? Plus, I have been going crazy the past few months having no income...

That is where my problem really begins. We have a plan to adopt a dog at 1 year of marriage, then to try for kids on our 2nd year of marriage. I wholeheartedly agree with this plan. I'm almost 30 and I'm scared we won't get to have any kids if we wait 5 more years. With the military lifestyle (change in base location every 2-4 years, military parent always off elsewhere etc) there always has to be one stay at home parent... Or else you rack up thousands of dollars in childcare and worse... neither of you will be there to watch your kids as they grow up.

My career options are (1) either continue with being certified to apply for US residency programs or (2) to put it off by 2-3 years or (3) to pursue a different path all together. Option 1 will eventually have me trying to match into programs that are an hour's drive away from where we will be living. With our family plan and his military commitment, I do not have the luxury to move to a different state or even county.

Option 2 seems to be okay. But, how realistic is it for me to pursue training when I will be an old IMG, 6-7 years from graduation? Will there even be a handful of programs who will peek at my application? I can also try to do vocational programs or get a masters in something medically-related, so I would be doing something. That's when Option 3 came in...

Is being a physician really a good career path for a future mom and military wife? Perhaps, I should delve into an academic career instead. Or become a public health practitioner? Has any of the bloggers/readers met a civilian physician who married a non-physician man in the military? Please enlighten my frazzled brain.

Thank you!

I apologize for the really long message. But, I forgot to put in that we won't have family that would be close enough to help us out with care. There is a possibility that my in-laws will live in the same state as us in 3 years, but for now, there will be no one to aide us.

I'll be a "single mom" haha.

Oh well, thank you so much for having your blog up. It was refreshing to read issues the superwomen of medicine have. so... I so wish you can help me out. :)

Friday, February 22, 2013

When I am a Senior Resident

One day soon, when I am a Senior Resident, I will look at my poor, tired Intern as she/he sits around on the weekend finishing up notes and say “poor, little, tired Intern, finish your notes then sign out to me and go home”. As an Intern, I now say something to that effect to the Medical Student and I’ll keep saying it as the overnight Senior.

I write this as I sit in the dark, cool call room after my notes are finished and my patients are tucked away wondering why the heck I am still here. I miss my family intensely on days like these. Days when all of my consults have been placed, all of my medication adjustments have been made with my friends in the Pharmacy, after all of my parents have been updated. After I have received several cute, cuddly pictures from my husband or our babysitter of the day. After I have called my mother to say how tired and lonely I am. After getting lunch with my fellow Interns (those with work to do) and the cool Seniors who are like “Dude, why are you still here?” My response, a shake of the head and a sigh. Oh by the way, did I say that my overnight Senior Resident, the one who I will be signing out to, the one who wouldn’t let me go home "early," is taking a nap in the call room?

Okay, okay, okay, I know, let’s look on the bright side.

I am inspired to write a poem:

Oh ye little tired Intern Soul
Set your spirit free once you are safely tucked away at home
Drive away, remove your scrubs, and wash C diff remnants away with real soap

Oh ye tired Intern Spirit
Carry on, far from here, because by this time next year you won’t have hour limitations and you’ll be stuck just like me
Until then, go be free knowing that your patients still have me.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

MiM Mail: Family/relationship sacrifice

Dear Mothers In Medicine community:

I'm a PGY2 who started off residency last year in an Ob-Gyn program while about 25 weeks pregnant.  While not ideal, I thought I could make this work -- there had been an resident a few years before me who had a baby during the fall of her intern year, and many residents in the program (female dominated) had babies during residency.  My program directors and co-residents were extremely supportive, and I luckily had a very easy pregnancy, healthy baby, and smooth recovery.

While being pregnant was easy, though, going back to work was harder than I had thought.  Many days, I was at work for 14 hours a day, plus I'd work weekends or nightfloat, and this would go on for months at a time.  Despite how much I was working, I hardly violated duty hours and I really did enjoy what I was doing and hardly thought about missing out on things at home because I loved my job.  Meanwhile, my husband was left home alone for most evenings and weekends with a baby, feeling unsupported and exhausted.  He's a wonderful father and in general a helpful, loving husband, but he grew increasingly disgruntled with the situation, and soon we were constantly bickering over my terrible schedule.  Our families, while on the same coast as us, are hours away.  We live in an apartment, so there was no space for a live-in nanny, and our daytime nanny fell through, so our son started daycare (which we all love).  I offered to hire more help for the nights and weekends, but my husband resisted, saying it was unfair to deprive our son of his mother.  Honestly, I think my husband was just feeling overworked, exhausted, unappreciated, and unhappy in his own job, and I actually think he felt that even though I was at work from 5:30 am to 7:30 or 8 pm many days and weekends, my time away from home was actually a "break" from having to take care of a new baby.

Tension at home worsened after I got into a car accident while coming home from nightfloat during the beginning of PGY2.  No one was hurt, but my husband was extremely upset -- not that I damaged the car -- but that I was willing to risk my life for the sake of a "job."  I tried to explain that I loved this job.  I asked about what his expectations were.  I insisted that other people have kids in residency and make it work.  It was all to no avail.  When he basically threatened that our marriage would eventually end and he would seek custody of our baby if this situation continued, I tried to negotiate a part-time position with my residency director, but it wasn't possible.  Long story short, I ended up taking a month off from the program, talking to lots of other people, and then switching into Psychiatry, which is the other field I was considered during 4th year of med school.

My quality of life is much better, but I still feel sad when thinking about this whole ordeal.  I'm adjusting to my new program, and 4 months into it, I feel like I'm getting the hang of things, but I know deep down it's not what I 100% really wanted to do.  And every time I open my inbox and see emails from ACOG, or open my mailbox and find an Ob-Gyn journal, or run into a med student who I worked with as an Ob-Gyn resident and have to explain why they're now seeing me on their Psych rotation (I stayed at the same institution), or run into my former Ob-Gyn attendings or co-residents, or see friends posting on Facebook about how much they loooove their residencies or are doing really cool things, it's like opening the wound all over again -- the hurt, sadness, anger, and embarrassment all come flooding back.  It's especially upsetting to me when I see other female residents, especially surgical ones, who are having their second babies while in training!  I know there must be more going on in their relationships that what meets the eyes, but it makes me sad that other people's husbands must be so much more supportive than mine.

So, I guess I'm writing to ask: has anyone else had to make huge sacrifices (such as switching residencies) in order to save a relationship or pacify a partner?  And if so, how did you handle this?  The resentment towards my husband is fading as I'm beginning to see how wonderful it is to have a life outside of work, but I'm wondering if I'll always feel a little sad about having to make this switch?

Thank you so much for your support and advice,

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Next Year...

Next year I am getting it right. 

Last year was my first experience as a parent trying to navigate the world of preschool Valentine's Day. I had instructions to deliver 39 Valentine's Day cards, each labeled with my daughter's name  ("Homemade cards welcome!"), to school for general distribution on February 14.  With little thought as to package to package variability, I picked up two boxes of small, brightly colored cards at Target and brought them home. On February 13 I opened the boxes, thinking I would have to do nothing more than write her name on the card, to discover the assembly of each card a five-step process that, in the end, took me 90 minutes and produced a meager little offering. 

That 90 minutes seemed an eternity, and not just for me, but for my 3 year old who, after 5 minutes, wandered off in search of more scintillating activity. Dinner still needed to be made. The house was a mess. But I remained alone at the kids' table to assemble, sticker, and label each card until all 39 were complete.  

I wasn't the only one who misjudged the expectations. In Munch's class are a few children from foreign countries, here for a few years while one or both of their parents complete graduate degree or post bac.  When Munch got home from school that she had a number of artful, standard-sized greeting cards, most written in unfamiliar languages. While I had been disappointed to find myself squandering dinner prep time with Valentine's Day card assembly, I wonder if those other parents were put off by the relatively paltry offerings put forth by their children's classmates. 

This year I bought far simpler cards in early February. 

And on Thursday I realized they were missing. Nothing in this house stays in one place for very long and so, after too long a period spent looking for the cards, I resigned myself to a second trip to Target for replacements. At this late hour, my options were Justin Bieber or origami fortune tellers

I strongly considered the Bieber cards. No preparation, not a particularly controversial celebrity, and who-cares-its-just-a-card. But an emotion similar to shame forced me to select the latter and hope dimly they were pre-folded. 

At home I confirmed I was not so lucky. In ground hog day fashion, I found myself alone in the kitchen, the night before Valentine's day, with dinner needing to be made, up against 39 unfolded origami cards and my own expectations. 

I did was I suspected I was going to do when faced with the potential each one of these cards would take me five or so minutes to complete. (Not to mention the time it would take to learn how to fold them in the first place.) Ignoring the multitude of dotted and crossed lines, I folded the cards lengthwise twice over and slid each card into its provided sleeve. I wrote my daughter's name on each sleeve and got on with the dinner preparation. 

Next year I might just distribute an envelop full of candy. Lord knows that is the only thing I wanted when I was 4. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

MiM Mail: Pregnant and matching, oh my!

Hi MiM,

I also have a Rank List dilemma...

I am a fourth year medical student applying for a categorical spot in Child Neurology. I just found out I am pregnant with #1! We were not really trying but it was a pleasant surprise, despite the fact that I am due in early October which will be four months into my intern year, yikes!  So, I will be entering residency visibly pregnant and then after a too brief maternity leave, I will have to finish intern year with a newborn. Ideal? No. But I am not going to take the year off and I am lucky in that my husband is further along in his medical career and will have a more flexible schedule than me. We have NO IDEA where we will end up as there are relatively few spots in Child Neuro thus I applied widely and will be ranking programs from coast to coast. By matching categorical that means I do Peds for two years followed by three years in Neurology but at the same institution.  I know that Peds tends to be more family friendly than some other programs but I got a sense that some programs were much more supportive than others. None of the programs I interviewed at are aware of my pregnancy as I just found out myself.  I don't think I need to disclose this and fear that it would only hurt my chances of ranking.... But if anyone has been in a similar situation or thinks that I am wrong I would love to hear her advice.

My other question is whether or not I should let the "family feel" of each program influence my rank order. Several of my top programs are very academic and I think the residents tend to be a bit younger (thus less likely to have families already) and so I wonder if it will be an issue for me to be pregnant/out for maternity/breast-feeding/etc. Part of me thinks that intern year going to be difficult no matter where I go and that I'll figure it out and make whatever I need to work. But the other part of me (the emotional, tired, newly pregnant part) wants to be a program that will be supportive and celebrate with me. I feel like I did interview at programs like that but they were mainly General Peds programs.  Thus I would have to take an extra year to complete Peds and then reapply for Child Neuro fellowship as an advanced candidate in a year. I'm not crazy about the idea of taking an extra year to train when I already know what I want to do.  Nor do I want to have to reapply and interview again. Furthermore, I think it would be disruptive to my husband's career to have to move again in three years as well. But again, if anyone has been through a similar situation or has any advice I would love to hear it.

Many thanks,
Pregnant and matching, oh my!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Fecal Transplants

Last summer, the kids and I visited my friend Trish-eee with her husband and two kids at her lake house up North.  It was restorative for me.  I hadn't seen her in a few years, long overdue.  We talk and text, sure, but there is nothing like face to face time.  She was one of my best friends in residency.  Her and Mellificent.  One of the funniest stories I remember (and there are many) was once when we were stealing away from a conference in San Diego for a little shopping time in the Bohemian district.  We asked a cabbie to take us there.  She's a beautiful blonde, a granola marathon runner, much like I might imagine Cheryl Strayed looked when she was taking her trip in Wild.  I had just read that book, and Trishie was training for a marathon during my visit.  She complained of blackened toenails, and I laughed thinking of Strayed's hiking trip.  I have never exercised so hard that my toenails blackened and fell off.  I guess there's still time in life.  Or maybe not.

Anyway, we took a cab to the district, I think it might have been called Hillcrest, which was funny to me since I lived at the time in the Hillcrest division of Little Rock.  In LR, it is a hippie, liberal area with lots of cool restaurants, bars, and fabulous old houses, some of them beautifully restored.  Trishie and I (Lizzie here) excitedly chatted about the fabulous Thai food we sought out and the wonderful second hand clothes stores we aimed to shop at.  I was winding down after presenting a paper, an on sale but fabulous Banana Republic suit happily hanging back in the hotel closet.  We were both exhilarated to be out of town and on a jaunt.  The cabbie had a question, which he asked with a heavy accent.

"So, we are going to Hillcrest.  You must be lesbians, no?"

We glanced at each other, shocked at the blatancy of his question.  And the fallacy.  Mutually decided that little explanation was better, but in retrospect I wish we would have replied yes, silently egging him on.  There were rainbow flags flying everywhere, and in another life, why not pretend?  So what if we were?

At the lake house this summer, Trishie took me on a long drive to see the area.  She told me she was on the fecal transplant committee at her hospital.  I did a double take.  Fecal WHAT?

"Lizzie, it's so crazy, but it works.  All the big research hospitals up North are doing it.  Some patients want fecal donors from their own families, but that's too rough on a small town hospital like ours.  We get a big normal stool sample, do all the testing in house to clear it of pathogens, and freeze it in aliquots.  You know those intractable patients with C.Diff.?  The ones who take tons and tons of meds and eat up hospital time?  You just do a tiny suppository of normal feces and voila!  They are cured."

I am the Director of Microbiology of my own hospital and I, subsequently confirming that all my co-workers (lab head, techs, etc.) as well, was not at all aware of this in Arkansas.  I had tons of questions for her, medical and otherwise.  She said, "Lizzie, it's so funny to sit on the committee.  There are all these poop jokes.  'I need to make a movement to approve this.'  'We need to make this our #2 priority.'"  I listened in awe and laughed until my face hurt.

A month or so ago there was an article on Fecal Transplants in the New York Times.  I also ran across it last week on Kevin M.D.  So despite my partner's reservations ('Are you sure she is not a practical joker, this friend of yours from residency?  I think she is surely pulling your leg' - you know who you are ha ha), I believe her.  It makes sense.  Replenish the gut with normal flora to fight disease, rather than blasting it with antibiotics - the bomb to kill the fly.  I wonder when it will come to Arkansas.  I am sure it will come to my attention as soon as it does.

Trishie called me a few weeks ago to set up another visit this summer, and I carved out a time.  I can't wait.  She and her husband are such wonderful parents to their kindergartner and toddler.  We played lots of games.  We watched the Olympics.  We taught Cecelia how to water ski, and she was so proud.  I got up on water skis for the first time in many years, and I was so proud.  I ran every day.  I swam laps around the lake, and my eyes burned from the muddy water, in a good way.  I learned about fecal transplants.  I wonder what I will learn about this year.  Surely it cannot compare.

I can't end this blog without mentioning that my friend Trishie is the daughter of a self-made multi-millionaire.  She would not reveal this to you - you might only learn about it if you knew her very well.  Many of you would recognize the name of what her dad has created, which I am withholding here out of respect for privacy.  She didn't have to work.  But she got her drive from her wonderful dad, who I met this past summer.  Her determination to carve out her own niche in this world and do something amazing trumped an easy, luxurious path in life which he certainly would have provided for her.  I am so proud of him for instilling that drive in her and her for fulfilling her own dreams.  She is an excellent physician.

Happy Fecal Valentine's Day Trishie, love you!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Oh my god....

Yesterday, I collected a receipt from our daycare for tax purposes. In the past, I've always gotten the receipts on a month by month basis, but this time they had a receipt for the entirety of 2012. My husband and I couldn't stop staring at the number on the receipt:


Spent on daycare. Before we pay our rent, before we buy even a single frozen chicken nugget. Just for daycare.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Guest post: End of residency rant

One short, miniscule, month. And I can’t get my shit together.

I started medical school almost eight years ago. I had the world at my feet. I was married five weeks before med school started. My husband was in graduate school about an hour away. I had a wonderful social life, and the resume-padding was unbelievable.

Then, unexpectedly, just before the end of my first year, I was pregnant.

Now, I am blessed with three beautiful children, the same wonderful husband, a dog, and a cat. I am about to start an exciting, rewarding career. I have a loving family and, once we dig out from under the mortgage-sized debt of my medical training, the prospect of a secure financial future. My licensing exam is completed – and passed. My application for independent practice is submitted.

Tick, tick, tick goes the checklist.

So why am I so blue?

Because I am sitting in my “office”, in the basement, for the gazillionth time, while my husband puts the children to bed. I am supposed to be finishing my resident research project, but all I can think about is the sacrifice that went into this whole deal. And I feel like I just can’t do it one more time. I can’t sit down here, while my kids do their thing, while my husband cooks and wipes little faces and hands, and dresses and changes, and talks and explains and answers little questions, while he washes hair and towels dry and finds pajamas, while he surfs the net in lieu of my company and attention. I spent months studying for my exam down here. I still spend endless hours down here administering to administration, to licensing bodies and colleges and universities and evaluations and preceptors and the endless litany of mindless work that only I can do. And I just can’t do it anymore. I am utterly spent.

Where are the other medical mothers who feel this way? Is acknowledging this darkness akin to yielding to it? Because I have noticed that no physician who does creative writing in popular medical journals seems to get published unless there is a vein of hope, silver lining, outwardly optimistic, or putridly glowing endorsement of the profession tucked into the moral of the story. We only want to hear tales of physician woe if the tales end with the message that we are the fortunate, rarefied few who get to struggle in this way. We hold our noble heads high.

Give me a break. Give me the sweaty mothers who can’t afford a nanny or a housekeeper or even a babysitter for a night out. Give me the stressed out mothers with messy homes and offices and cluttered minds and hearts. Give me the medical mothers who nurse their infants while reading their journals, then feel guilty about splitting their attention. I want to befriend the other mothers who adore their children so much that their hearts break on a daily basis – yet can’t stand the same children disturbing their few hours of consecutive sleep. Give me the doctors who love medicine, who want to see patients all day and night, who listen to medical podcasts and fantasize about intubating crashing patients while doing their completely irregular workouts (it does get the heart rate up), who obsess over the evidence basis for PSA testing and feel crushed when they miss a diagnosis. I want to be friends with dedicated mothers and dedicated doctors, and I want to acknowledge the horror of combining those two wonderful people into one. Because it isn’t as pretty as it sounds.

So, as I sit down here, I just can’t get my shit together. I can’t decide if it’s all been worth it or not. On the very cusp of being “done” with training, with one foot raised and about to touch the start line of the rest of my life, I can’t decide. Or maybe, I’m a little bit sickened. Because maybe, I want to admit, that the sacrifice has been too great, and if I could do it all over again, maybe I just wouldn’t. Silver lining be damned. I’ve always wanted to be a mother, more than I ever, ever wanted to be a doctor. And while being a mother has undoubtedly made me a much better doctor, I cannot say that the reverse is true. In fact, being a doctor has stolen gaping wounds of time and attention from my mothering soul.

But I can’t bring myself to say it just yet. Somehow, despite the sickness in my heart, I just can’t say it. Perhaps the future knows something I don’t. Perhaps I just can’t bear to close a piece of writing on a negative note.  Maybe I am copping out, playing to the audience, telling you what I think you want to hear. I don’t know. So I sit in my basement office a little longer, the children are asleep, and soon I should be, too. Because tomorrow the children will want me, it will be my 27th-last day of residency, and there is still, always, work to be done.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Being introduced

My mother, not in medicine, and this mother in medicine, went to have a biopsy.  Her biopsy.  By a surgeon.  I am not a surgeon.  Nor am I a doctor for adults.  My day to day is infants, toddlers, school-aged children, tweens, and adolescents.  And medical students.  

How does your mom introduce you to her doctors?  My mother introduced me to the surgeon whom she herself was just meeting at that moment, as her daughter.  Sounds reasonable.  Started off well.  Though this was immediately followed by, “she’s a pediatrician.”  I paused briefly at the stark declaration, and softly came up with, “…who knows nothing about what you do.” 

Why did I demur?  Why so modest?  The surgeon and I might indeed speak the same language (though she much more tersely).  But I need not hover, make her nervous, nor imply that the reason I’m there is because I’m a doctor too.  The reason I was there was to support my mother.  As a daughter.

But alas, I guess I was also there because I do speak, or at least understand, that language.

[Results not in yet.  Somehow felt okay to post here on MIM in the interim.]

Friday, February 8, 2013

Mom's Group

Back when I was on my last maternity leave, forever ago, I joined a local Mom's playgroup.

At the time, it was sort of fun. We met up on the long boring weekdays and chatted. (We never ate, for some reason. We'd have these playgroups going from 10AM to 2PM and god forbid anyone would ever suggest having lunch. Mothers don't consume food, right?)

Eventually, I went back to work. And that was it for the playgroup and my playgroup friends.

I still get emails about the playgroups. They're always on weekdays, and even if I happen to have the day off, I'm usually playing catch-up on errands. And whenever I suggest doing something on a weekend, everyone tells me that's family time.

I think this is why working moms and stay-at-home moms can't really be friends, not because we have nothing in common. SAHMs want to fill their weekdays with activities, whereas on weekdays, working moms are either working or too exhausted to contemplate going out.

Still, it makes me sad every time I see those playgroup emails.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

MiM Mail: Rank List Dilemma

Dear MiM,

I am a fourth year medical student anxiously awaiting March 15 (match day). I enjoyed almost all my rotations and nothing jumped out to me as "the one." I ended up applying in Emergency Medicine and Internal Medicine (2 different specialties, I did not apply to any combined programs).  I also have a toddler who IS my joy and passion. My ultimate career/mom goal is working as a part-time ER doc or as a hospitalist with a week-on-week-off schedule, which, as far as I could see, would allow me the most time to spend with my child while still practicing medicine.

Here’s the catch: my husband, also a fourth year medical student, is applying in General Surgery. I have no illusions about how much I would see him as a surgical intern/resident anyway, but to add to that, he's applying to programs that (while less than an hour away from where I hope to be) will necessitate him living away from my daughter and I for several months out of the year (the program he's looking hardest at rotates where I'll be a good bit). I want to stay where we live now because we have an  awesome/ideal amount of family support and a nanny that we love.

Most of my anxiety stems not from actual worry about intern year, but rather about never seeing my daughter. To that end, I'm basing my rank list on whichever program will allow me to spend more time with her (because, again, I love EM & IM both, and can't find another way to choose...also, she's my priority).

I've been able to negotiate with my favorite IM program a 3 months on, 1 month off format, which will extend my residency from 3 to 4 years (however, they're reluctant to do this with intern year, which I understand, but still isn't ideal). I am not sure if it would be better for my child if I was gone all the time for a shorter period of time or home one month out of four (but extending residency by a year). Stability vs. Seeing Mommy (at least sometimes). Of course this also has decreased salary and benefits. On the other hand, EM would mean not seeing her much at all on days when I work (usually 10-12 hour shifts) but then having whole days with her when I'm off (and still getting out in 3 years). There's also the night work, which means some more day time, but having to arrange night time care (fortunately, I am in a situation where I can do this).

I know no one can make this decision for me. Nevertheless, I appreciate the chance to get some feedback on my situation from people who might understand it better than most. Any thoughts on which one is more do-able (in the short and long run?). Rank lists are due Feb. 20 and I'm going back and forth on this.


At a Crossroads

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Should I go to medical school?

I have gotten several emails though my blog, some from people who found me through Mothers in Medicine, asking me for advice. I am so touched that people reach out to me. I used to answer these emails individually. I have not answered the last handful, for many reasons.

Most of all, these reasons are personal. Intern year is much different than fourth year as a medical student. I have had a lot more demands on my sleep schedule, my time, my emotions, and my responsibility. I haven't been blogging much in general.

I also did not match last year, and have spent most of this year questioning my dreams. I don't want to rain on anyone's parade with some sort of bitter reply. Which, I wouldn't necessary give, but I have to be honest in my answer. Being a single mother in medical school and residency isn't a piece of cake. But, being a single parent in this world isn't a piece of cake, either, and being a medical student and / or resident isn't a piece of cake. Foregoing medical school isn't necessarily the answer to any of that.

Here is some general advice I will share with parents, single or otherwise, who are facing decisions about medical school and residency. These answers cover a mishmash of frequently asked questions that come up in comments and emails. I looked it over, and I use the qualifier "very" a lot. I usually avoid that word, thanks to my father's influence. He told me to edit by replacing every "very" with "damn", and then to edit out the profanity. I have left them in, because this topic is very damn very challenging.

For single parents or parents whose partner will not be available for child care:

You will need to have a very, very flexible, very solid support system. For clinical years and residency, you will be expected to change what time you come and go on a moment's notice. The rotation you are on most likely will change every four to six weeks, and the demands, time wise, may change day to day on certain rotations. These hours can be as early as 5 am or even earlier, and you can be expected to stay way past midnight, even all night. Some of these times you can plan for, and some you can't. Living near family is very, very important for those of us who can arrange for that. It definitely can be done without family, but please keep in mind the expense and issues with screening and turnover of caregivers.

For people who are facing custody issues, possibly moving for residency, lack of familial support in their particular area:

I feel for you. Coparenting arrangements are very, very difficult. Depending on a lot of factors, you may need to be willing to move for residency, especially for certain specialties or even for some of your rotations. This may involve moving to a place your ex doesn't want you to move to, or moving to a place away from familial and / or social support. The judge may not look to kindly upon you leaving town with a child or children to a place where you know no one and will be working 80 hours a week, including nights, no matter how much you love your kids and parent well. And, there is a reason for that. Is it doable? Yes. Is it a good idea? Depends. Keep this in mind before embarking on medical school. This is one reason I wish I had done ARNP midwifery instead of medical school, occasionally. I wouldn't have to do the match for obstetrics residency. I had reasons not to go the nursing route then, and those are still valid.

For people trying to decide between nurse practitioner, midwifery, physician, and other avenues of the medical profession:

I really stumbled into medicine without a full understanding of how involved the process was, when it came to board exams, residency match, etc. I am still not fully informed on what it takes to be most of the other options available. Please research the nitty gritty, and you will still be surprised by the reality of how the sausage is made. I found studentdoctor.net. With all of its problems (and there are MANY), it is a decent place to find out practical details of many steps of medical school, from pre-med through fellowship and beyond, if you can fish through the trolling, bragging and nonsense.

As for whether or not you can handle it...sigh. I think we can all handle a lot. I think there are times at work, even at 4 am, in which I am exhilarated, and so happy that I chose my path. There are times when I am with my kids that are quality times, and everything seems to work out. There are times in which I feel completely overwhelmed, where I cry at work, and then cry at home because these kids who I wanted to desperately to spend time with when I was stuck at the hospital are bickering with me and with each other, and all I want to do is send everyone to their rooms. No matter what happens this March when I find out if I match in obstetrics or family practice, I will be happy as a physician. I will also have regrets. I think this will apply to anyone, no matter where their choices lead them.

For people who are older:

I was not the oldest person in my medical school. I am not the oldest person in my residency program. I think it is more of an issue with your peers than with your professors and attending physicians, who may be your age. They don't think they are less skilled, and may identify with you more readily than they do younger students. Some people may say it's a waste of investment of a medical school spot or residency spot that a younger person who would give more back deserves more. People say this about women in medicine, too, and that we want to go pop out babies and work part time when we are done with training. All these people can, um, stuff it.

For people who have a history in the "natural" birth community, i.e. doula, midwife, or are just crunchy types looking into medical school:

There is definitely room for us in all aspects of the medical community. I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity in my medical school and in the medical community. One of the first events I participated in for medical school was a social event at a bar, and one of my classmates, a massage therapist, was a few sheets to the wind and offering to balance my classmates' chakras in a wobbly kind of way. I sat next to a grandmother who caught her own grandchild at a home birth all of my second year.

However, medical school is long. Residency is long. It is a grueling, intensive slog. Make sure you are doing it to become a physician. If you want to be a doula, be a doula. I will not be a doula or a lay midwife if I am an obstetrician, or even if I am a family practitioner. It is not worth the effort to go through all the extra training, and the infrastructure is very inflexible and unforgiving. You potentially will be choosing battles constantly, and need to know your place as a matter of respect and experience and survival. Does that mean always stuffing it?  No. But, it means often stuffing it.

If there's anything I missed, please add it in the comments.