I just finished two of my best weeks as attending on the wards. It’s hard to describe exactly why these two weeks were so great but I think it had to do with a great team dynamic that involved trusting my residents, great teaching opportunities, and interesting patients.
But I also have to wonder if my great experience was because my team was all woman including a resident and a medical student who are both moms. Here are a few observations from my rotation.
First, resident mom and med student mom AMAZE me. Resident Mom has two school aged children which means she has had kids during her entire residency. Med Student Mom has an infant and is on her second rotation after maternity leave. She drives an hour each way to get to the hospital and leaves her baby for long stretches with her mother. I am exhausted just thinking about her schedule.
What amazes me most about Resident Mom and Med Student Mom is how calm, unstressed, and pulled together they seem. They work the crazy hours of training yet never seem stressed or tired or cranky. This is quite different from how I felt (and likely appeared) when I had my son during residency. I cried every morning when I left home and complained a lot about the fatigue and stress I felt.
Resident Mom and Med Student Mom appear quite different. They are super calm and seem truly on top of everything. I am in total awe of their dedication and composure.
The second thing I realized is that mothers in medicine need to support each other and the hierarchy of medicine shouldn’t get in the way. There is no question that training will always be grueling and the workload will be heavier for students and residents than for attendings.
I can’t change this system. But I can create a better culture where people feel safe to talk about the pressures of training, particularly being a mother in training.
Mothers in Medicine blogger, KC, wrote about a different approach when she became a division chief and met with a new mom who returned from maternity leave. “We talked about her transition back to work, their childcare arrangements, and where she stood in terms of identifying academic areas of interest,” she wrote. This was a total reversal from her own experience eleven years earlier with male bosses.
My recent experience on the wards reminded me of KC’s story. As mothers in medicine start to rise up in the ranks, we can create a culture that supports other mothers, especially those who are still in training or early in their careers. We are the ones who recognize that it is not easy to be a mother in medicine. It was natural for me to ask Med Student Mom if she was able to find a lactation room and ask about Halloween costumes and understand that some mornings are harder than others.
For some of us, showing this support comes in the form of blogging and writing and working for policy change. But for many of us, support comes in a quieter form – a silent culture revolution. It can be asking questions of how another mother in medicine is doing - whether she’s feeling stressed or guilty or exhausted. It can be breaking down the hierarchies and treating each other not as students and residents and attendings but instead as adults who share a common thread of motherhood.