Thursday, July 17, 2014

MiM Mail: Disclose family in residency applications?

Dear Mothers in Medicine,

I was so excited to have found this blog! What an inspiration! I'm a 4th year medical student with a busy little 12 month old. My husband is wonderfully supportive and great at stepping up and taking care of our son when my schedule gets crazy. To be honest, when I first found out I was pregnant I would have never thought that med school + a baby would be so doable (ridiculously hard at times, but totally doable). Sure, there were many times when I was ridiculously sleep deprived and didn't get to see my husband or baby awake for a day or two. And sure, there were several times where I spent my pumping session crying in addition to stuffing a sandwich into my mouth as quickly as possible. But I did it, and I *think* I did it well. I don't mind anonymously tooting my own horn on this one because I'm darn proud. This past year has confirmed that I'm on the right track-I love being a mom, and I love being in medicine!

I am now preparing to apply to residency positions. As much as I tried to like a field with more potential for control over my schedule (peds, PM&R, pathology?), I realized that I would never be satisfied if there wasn't a significant amount of OR time in my future. I even almost let a few of my attendings talk me into going into general surgery, but in the end I decided that my passion is for OB/Gyn. I'm struggling with this decision because of the many hours/days that I know I'm signing myself up to spend away from my family. My husband tells me that I can always quit and be a SAHM, but that is not my calling and I know it. I'm already feeling guilty about putting my career in front of my family and now I'm faced with the decision of whether to disclose in my applications that my family even exists! I've been told that when selecting residents, if two applicants are otherwise equal, they will pick the one without commitments outside of the hospital. It's illegal, of course, to base decisions on these factors, but it's undeniable that it happens.

I think I've decided to leave any mention of my family out of my personal statement, but there are many other areas in the application process where this information could potentially come out. There are two different areas for explaining any breaks and extensions of the normal 4 year track. I took a LOA after I had my baby. Do I just say I took a medical leave and not explain? Is this a red flag? (Is this going to happen again? What if it was a psychiatric reason and she's unstable? Etc) I have heard of people bringing their kids/spouses to interview dinners. Do I leave them behind? Not talk about them? Hide my wedding ring? How far do I take this? It just feels wrong to hide the two most important and influential people in my life. I used to think that if a residency program doesn't want me because of my family, then I don't want them. However, in an increasingly competitive market, it may be naive and foolish of me to sabotage myself by disclosing personal information that won't even potentially benefit me. It just all feels wrong.

Thanks!

8 comments:

  1. I don't get this "hide the wedding ring" advice people I saw on the interview trail got last year. This isn't 1950, and you don't want to match at a program that has a problem with you being married (let alone the kid part).

    As for mentioning the kids, the only way I think it really matters is if you had a drop in grades after you had a kid. If you continued to kick ass after the kid was born in medical school that's evidence that you will continue to do so as a resident. Some programs might take it as an indication that you're not willing to move, so you'll need to be prepared to address that, if applicable. Basically, if you mention it, you need to be prepared to talk about it in the interview, and you need to be able to talk about it like it's an asset.

    That said, this is a JOB application. You certainly don't have to disclose it at all. You want to keep the interview about what a great applicant you are. Honestly they don't care that you love being a mom, they just want to know you're not going to be a flaky employee. If having a baby allows you to show them how organized and efficient you are, then I don't think it would hurt you at all.

    I mentioned it on my application (it was 1 line at the bottom of my CV), and if anything I think it helped me, but I think it can depend a lot on how you present yourself and the information. It also probably depends on the overall strength of your application.

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  2. This is a very fine balance. No one should ever talk incessantly about family, religious, sexual orientation, disability stuff or otherwise on any application, personal statement or resume. However, you have to get used to crafting an explanation for the LOA because you will get asked that again after residency (when credentialing for jobs). I had to do the same for a medical leave. Come up with a concise, good-sounding thing that you can write in the space and can say to people when it comes up.

    It WILL come up in the interview and maybe at the dinners. You don't owe anyone a detailed explanation, just come up with something that is vague but sounds good and stick with it. As far as the dinners go, where I trained they were for residents only, no family. I would ask to make sure before you consider bringing any family members. Don't NOT be yourself (ie don't not wear your wedding ring or talk about your family if the subject comes up). You'll be fine. Good luck!

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  3. Most OB/GYN programs that I know of have residents having babies left and right. In a field dominated by women it seems many programs come to expect these things. You should have no trouble finding programs where several of the residents have kids and if you find one that doesn't, run the other direction. Believe it or not there are some programs who pride themselves on being supportive of parents and will see having a family as a positive during the match process. Personally, I would just be honest about what your LOA was for. Having a kid during residency is hard enough and if disclosing that keeps you away from malignant programs who are not supportive of family, you'll be better off.

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    1. I agree completely with Dr. Mom's response. I think as a Resident and future Attending I would be disappointed if an applicant hid their wedding ring or hid their family. It seems dishonest to me. I had a single line on my application something like "In my free time, I enjoy exercising, reading, and time with my husband and our 1-year-old son."

      I think you should be honest about your child. I think saying you took time off for a medical leave of absence is dishonest and if I read that and then heard that you were pregnant I'd be taken aback.

      I agree that some programs may not want you, but would you really want them if they won't even rank someone highly with children? I applied for some highly competitive Peds programs in NYC and didn't get a single interview, Southern Atlantic programs - tons of interviews and almost all of the Residency Directors were parents with young children! We ended up talking about our families during interviews - not illegal, it was a natural progression of the conversation. Interviews are about making sure you're not crazy weird and antisocial (and even those residents usually get positions).

      Say you do leave out mentioning your family and you get accepted to a family-unfriendly program? Residency is hard enough without having a family being a huge issue. I am in an extremely "family friendly" program, but all that means is that folks have children, they talk about their children at work, we see eachother at daycare drop offs, we are encouraged to bring our familes to social functions. The hours still are tremendous and family "unfriendly" yet there is no way to get around that. I work the same hours and every now and then if I'm in clinic and my child is sick folks will cover, otherwise he's with my husband. That's like 1-2 times a year at the most.

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  4. I agree it's a big concern. I have a friend who did not disclose her pregnancy during match out of fear of not matching (a very real concern for that program) and it bit her in the ass - she was not treated very well as a resident. Luckily she got a great part time job and is finding her joy for medicine again while mothering two small children.

    It is a good idea to feel out a program with a little bit of a guard up - but I wouldn't outright hide or lie like those said above. You can be honest but downplay family - it's kind of good practice because I felt as a resident, and I don't think I was unique, that I had to leave my family at home to get along with most people at work. Now in private practice I have a bulletin board in my office full of kid pics and it's spilling over to the back of my door:)

    I think having a spouse is a plus in many ways. You are committed, you are stable, you have support. People view kids a little differently with more diverse opinions on how much of a distraction they might be. Unfortunately, it is more of a negative for women than men, even though I think it made me personally more efficient and goal oriented and focused in my own career path.

    Good luck to you - what a wonderful passion. And, I agree, women dominated or at least well populated in many programs so more supportive atmosphere hopefully around family, like pediatrics.

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  5. I sat on the admissions committee of a large IM residency program - in all honesty, we never factored in anything about people's families, marital status, kids into our decisions. In fact I made it a point to tell all the applicants about my own family and tell them how family-friendly our program is. If you get any negative reaction from telling someone about your family - might be a sign that you should avoid that program - sounds like it would be a miserable several years at any place that would be unwelcoming to young women with kids...

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  6. I'm a third year resident in a large University based OB-Gyn program and also a Mom. All anyone cares about is whether you'll put in your time and be dependable.So, just be yourself on the interview trail. There are plenty of programs like mine out there that are family friendly. Good luck! And, by the way, I'm still insanely happy as an OB

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  7. I wouldn't put family stuff in your personal statement, mostly because the personal statement is a space for you to talk about your path to medicine and your professional aspirations. However, on interview days I would recommend just being yourself. If your family comes up in conversation I wouldn't hide it and certainly would not lie, because they will find out if you go to that program. Keep your focus on professional things during the interview day but be open about your family if and when it comes up naturally in conversation. If it doesn't come up, you are not obliged to disclose it unless you want to. I would recommend trying to suss out from current residents what the culture is around family. If a program doesn't choose you because you are a parent, bullet dodged! You would probably not want to be a resident there.

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