It's residency application season! ERAS opened a few weeks ago (coinciding with the sudden onset of palpitations among fourth-year medical students across the country...) As I work on my personal statement and gather letters of recommendation, I've been doing a lot of thinking about why I came to medical school and why I'm choosing my particular specialty.
I came to medical school fueled by a love for biology and a deep desire to help people in need. I'd always liked studying and was willing to work hard to learn how to best help my patients. Yet, after my daughter was born, I began to seriously consider whether or not I wanted to finish medical school. Suddenly, all of the caring energy I'd poured into my patients was directed toward one tiny little human. Morning rounds were replaced by silly songs and walks to the park; sign-out by baths and bedtime stories; overnight call by q2 hour feeds and diaper changes. There are plenty of people who want to be doctors, I thought, as I cradled my daughter in my arms. I'm the only mother she has.
When my daughter was 8 weeks old, I went back to school to finish my third-year clerkships. Those first months were harder than I'd expected. I hated being away from my daughter, hated scrounging for time and space to pump, hated feeling like I was less than half the mother and student I wanted to be. I had a hard time switching between hospital-mode and home-mode - it seemed that by the time I'd settle back into being a bumbling first-time mom, I had to leave again to be the clueless third-year medical student who couldn't remember the names of nerves or the proper technique for position patients on the operating table.
Many nights were spent with me crying to my poor beleaguered husband (who was taking on most of the childcare responsibilities while I was back on rotations) about how I hated all things medical. We went over all the possible scenarios we could imagine, looking for an exit strategy: maybe I should just drop out and save us all a lot of misery; maybe I should graduate but not pursue residency; maybe I should keep going and hope it would get better.
On many occasions, I came close to choosing one of those first two options. In the end, though, I always stuck with the third. And as time went on, it did get better. I finished the rotations I'd been less fond of, the world miraculously emerged from winter, and life began to look a little more hopeful. When my daughter was five months old, I started an Acting Internship in the specialty I'd been planning to pursue - and to my relief and even delight, I found that I enjoyed it just as much as I had before she was born. Although I still felt sad when leaving in the morning, I was quickly engaged in pre-rounding on patients and discussing management decisions with the residents and attending. I looked forward to seeing my patients each morning and found it exciting to collaborate with other providers to find the best diagnostic and treatment options. I began to feel a sense of professional identity that had faded somewhat in those first postpartum months. When I came home, I was eager to talk with my husband about the diagnoses I'd made, and even more eager to throw myself wholeheartedly into feeding, bathing and snuggling my daughter until bedtime.
Those four weeks of Acting Internship - during which I felt for the first time that being a mother in medicine was not only a possible option but actually a life-giving one - are part of what has kept me motivated to finish medical school and complete post-graduate training. I feel that I have rediscovered the passion that brought me to medical school in the first place, and am grateful that it has been proven in the testing fire of new motherhood. I know that residency will bring many challenges, both familiar and novel, but I am encouraged by the fact that as I advance in my training, I will move increasingly into the areas of medicine that I most enjoy - the areas that give me a sense of purpose distinct from and complementary to that which I find in motherhood.
What about the rest of you MiM? Were there times when you questioned whether medicine and motherhood were compatible? What motivated you to become a physician, and what keeps you going in your field?