Monday, October 20, 2014

MiM Mail: Respond to the itch?

Dear Mothers in Medicine,

I am a 29 year old single mother of 2 boys, ages 7 and 3. I'm not in medicine as of yet, but about 6 months ago started getting the itch that my calling is to be a Family Practitioner. I'm so glad to have found your site, as I am torn between following my dreams and putting my childrens' needs first. I wonder if anyone has advice - is there any way to do both?

I live near Cleveland, Ohio and moving isn't really an option (to my knowledge) since I am divorced and share the children with the ex 50/50 (I have them every other week). It also might be good to know that my 7 year old has ADHD. Some people consider this to not even be a true condition, I understand, but my child is severe and cannot even attend school without receiving his medication twice daily. I am really the only one who understands him and can give him the love he needs unconditionally. So I am definitely a huge part of his healthy well being. My younger son needs me too, of course, but is very close with his father. So I worry less about my younger son.

Currently I am a Sign Language Interpreter. For the past 11 years, 90% of my work has involved medical settings. So, I've had the opportunity to shadow just about every aspect of the medical field. It has been an amazing experience! And that's where the hunger to become a physician myself began.

I noticed that for just about any other foreign language you can find a doctor with whom to communicate directly, if you look hard enough. In Ohio, however, there apparently are no physicians fluent in American Sign Language whatsoever. Because of my passion for the deaf community, this saddens me. Even with extremely skilled interpreters facilitating doctor/patient communication, I truly feel that some (possibly cruicial) nuances of the language are lost in translation. I want to close that gap in patient care. We really are behind the times in this, as a society.

Other reasons I long to enter medical school: I have a strong passion for the sciences, math, and especially solving mysteries. What better mysteries to solve than those which could save or better someone's life? I was standing outside a patient room in a dermatology office and happened to overhear the conversation between the attending physician and one of the residents there. I immediately saw myself on both sides of the conversation - first as the resident, sharing the information I had gathered from the patient with my attending and gaining confidence in my abilities to correctly diagnose and treat each issue, taking into account the special circumstances of each individual patient. But I could also see myself as the attending physician. I know I would love using the leading questions to help new doctors grow and learn in their profession. I can see myself there, as if it is as close as tomorrow.

Now, I don't know if my background will be a hindrance, as I was home schooled, and only have my Associate's degree so far. I pressed forward and earned my degree from a local community college despite my family's protests. My family is very grass roots and took offense to me wanting to go farther in my education than anyone else in the family ever has. But I did it. I am a very determined individual, so I know I could get through medical school. Afterwards, I would strive to be the very best of physicians by always being willing and ready to learn everything I can - never being satisfied with my current knowledge.

So I guess what it all boils down to is this: Would it be possible for me to be a medical student and a good mother to my two children? I know my life will never feel complete if I don't reach my full potential educationally/vocationally, but I don't want to ignore my childrens' needs either, as my parents did. They should come first.

At first glance it might be easy to say, "Well, its too much if you have children. You'd never see them," and that might be the bottom line. But currently, my income is barely enough to survive. Being a med student would actually increase the funds I have to use throughout the year substantially as compared to working all that I can currently.

So I'm just looking for options and advice. Is there a way in Cleveland to be a part-time med student, perhaps? Or set your own schedule somewhat, since I have every other week without the children?

Thank you so very much for your time and consideration. I truly value any gems of insight you can provide.




  1. I'm not a medical doctor, but as someone who advises students, I'd suggest you don't have to make an absolute decision yet.

    Before you have to worry about med school, I think you'd have to finish a four year degree (one of the MDs or DOs here might correct me if I'm wrong), and make sure to take the necessary courses as preparation, and take the MCATs. I think you might meet with a college counselor about ways to finish your BA/BS, and what you'd need in classes to prepare you for med school.

    Then, if you still feel strongly that you want to go to med school, you'll be ready to apply. If you don't, you'll have finished a college degree, and that's an important accomplishment, especially if it helps you be a better critical thinker, stronger citizen, better role model for your kids, etc.

    You should, I think, be able to finish a four year degree going part-time. But I think med schools are all arranged so that you have to go full time. But since that would be a few years down the road, you could figure that out as the time came.

    Good luck whatever your decision. It sounds like you're doing good, meaningful work now, and that's super important.

  2. On the other hand, if you feel committed to this path, there's at least one combined BS/MD program in Ohio:

    That's a 6-7 year path. Very doable. You're just about the same age I was when I started prereqs for med school, and now I've been out in practice for two years, being not quite 40 yet.

    So, can you do this and be a good mom? Sure. Many do. On a personal note, I lost my father in my first year of med school, and my mother is exploring hospice options right now. So my parents' lives and choices have been on my mind lately.

    This is what I feel: the things about my parents that have made the greatest impact on me were not the things they did for me. It wasn't opportunities, or vacations, or education, or financial support. It wasn't even discipline or life wisdom. It was witnessing the way they have lived their lives, doing what was right, fighting their demons, falling and getting back up.

    Your life is the greatest lesson you will leave to your children when you were gone. So if you have the passion for this work, but are not sure you want to plunge in and fight to make your dream come true, the question ultimately is, what example do you want to set for your children?

  3. I think the BS/MD idea is a great one for you. Otherwise, your biggest obstacle will be moving. There are so many qualified applicants for med school that it isn't possible to be sure you will get in somewhere within driving distance of home. Plenty of divorced people with kids live apart, but you need to make sure you are ok with this if you are committing the enormous amount of time and money (paying for pre-requisite courses, MCAT books and registration, traveling for interviews, etc) that it takes to get in to med school. There is no way to be a part-time med student, especially in third year and intern year (the first year of residency) when you will be working many unpredictable hours.
    For what it's worth, if you do decide to make the sacrifice, you seem like a brilliant and dedicated person who would make a fantastic physician. If, however, you decide that moving several times (for med school and then residency) and all the other sacrifices are unacceptable to you, there are many other options you might consider (PA, NP, speech pathologist, and more). Best of luck on your journey!

  4. You've got some great practical advice above. As another single mom, my heart reaches out to you. But I'm different, because I didn't become one until a few years out of residency. I have an amazing support system with dad and stepmom (sounds like you've got good half time support too) and would never consider a move given my partnership in private practice and the aforementioned support. So I'm pretty stable, and on the other side of the proverbial rainbow, career-wise. I know from other single moms on this journey that even though it is a sometimes harder route, you can make it work in the same town with your ex.

    Having said that your passion and commitment to your ideas is infectious. Solving mysteries is what makes me get out of bed in the morning. Just had a case of Nocardia in a bronch wash the other day - hadn't seen that since residency. Much excitement among the cytotechs and myself. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't get at least a tiny glimpse of feeling like Alice in Wonderland. That fuels me despite all the challenges in medicine. You seem like you have a wonderful agenda with your talents so far.

    I have no idea about being a part time med student in Cleveland but know of a few fringe students who made it work in Arkansas. Two of my best friends ended up at Cleveland Clinic - visited them with kids a few years ago and I love your city can't wait to come back.

    Sometimes I worry about putting my career (kids 11 and 9 now) so foremost in my life with kids but hope that my enjoyment and challenge and dedication is a good example for them. We do the best we can with what we've got, right? Good luck!

  5. You are pretty young still so be with your kids now while they are younger and need you more. Work toward your bachelor's degree at your own pace and then see where you and your kids are in life. Passion doesn't just fly away...if it is meant to be, that passion will still be there. I entered med school at age 21 but my two closest friends were 50 and 40, the latter with 5 kids still at home! You have time...don't miss the precious moments with your kiddos.

    1. Hi Amber- I'd love to hear more about the paths that your older friends took to get to med school. I just turned 33 and I'm contemplating med school, but the whole process seems so daunting. I did my undergrad in nursing and then I went to law school, wanting to do health policy. But now I wonder if I did it all wrong, and I regret not doing the med school path from the very beginning. But I have two little ones, and pre reqs I'd have to do, and I have a great career path right now so I feel selfish thinking about doing anything else. But I can't get the idea out of my head. It's my age that haunts me -- is it worth making the switch at this stage in my life? So did your two friends have to do pre reqs, etc.? Do they plan on working long enough that the education/training was worth it? Thank you for your thoughts!

    2. Mel, sorry for such a late reply. Yes they had to do prereqs, the older lady actually got national health service corp so her med school was paid and she gave back 4 years of service in an underserved area where she still works today, 11 yrs later. Her husband died of a heart attack during her residency but he was always supportive of her dream. The other lady I believe is still paying back her loans but I know she believes it was all worth it. They both went into family medicine. Interesting I also had a friend who had been a nurse for 20 yrs then went to med school. She was planning on doing family medicine with me but felt there was no way she could get her loans paid off and save for retirement in the short career she would have so she specialized in anesthesia. Now 11 yrs later I just finished paying my loans with hardly any of my own money (I have gotten loan repayment for working with the underserved) and she still owes over $100k. Just a few stories. Happy holidays

    3. Amber- Thank you so much for getting back to me! I really appreciate all of your thoughts and your stories. I'm still researching my options, and this is really helpful. Thanks again.

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