Monday, May 7, 2018

Supporting parent learners in medicine

I recently put together a panel for the AAMC Continuum Connections conference (a joint meeting of student affairs, GME, medical students, and residents) on Supporting Parent Learners Throughout the Continuum. The goal was to discuss the unique needs of our parent learners, identify gaps in support, and share best practices. We had a fantastic panel including a medical student dad, an OB/GYN fellow mom, a student affairs dean, and a former PD/central GME leader.

The 1 hour 15 minute session was clearly not enough time. We could have filled 2 days with the discussion. I loved that so many people had chosen to come and think about these issues and the panelists' personal experience and perspectives were insightful. 

Some key areas that were brought up:
  • communities of support for parent learners to connect with each other
  • childcare
  • stigma/bias
  • parental leave
  • breastfeeding (particularly with regards to culture/time and certain rotations)
  • parental leave
One institution holds spots in a local daycare for incoming PGY-1s since the process can take so long and there can be too little time to secure ones after Match Day. Love this idea. One school holds a welcoming event for medical student parents and their families to get to know each other right from orientation.

And I shared the upcoming event at my house: babysitting for medical student parents so they could have a nice night out together --Parents' Night Out. It was so difficult for my husband and me to share any alone time without a baby on our lap, and it's expensive to hire babysitters, so I wanted to give our student parents some wellness. 

We had it this past weekend and it was a ton of fun. Students dropped off their kids at our house and I had a small crew of student volunteers who wanted to help. There were five kids total, ages 3 months to 3 years old. We adults outnumbered them -which turned out to be a very helpful ratio to trade-off and allow helpers to eat and take a break. I loved loved loved seeing our medical student parents and their kids. When one couple came to drop-off wearing nice going out clothes and mentioned it was their first date since the baby was born, I think my heart grew two sizes. I also enjoyed getting to know the students who volunteered their time to help on a Saturday night.

At the AAMC panel, the former PD/central GME speaker said to the audience: to the younger generations, I'm sorry my generation could not figure it out (in terms of parental leave). It's still an issue after all of these years. But, what I would add to that is that we have certainly made progress. More of us are thinking about how to support our parent learners better, as well as all of our learners. Just having a dedicated session to that during a conference is a start.


  1. Parents night out sounds like an awesome idea!

    Maybe it's just me but I cringed when I saw 1/3 of your panel was a medical student dad. In my limited experience (n = 6) of medical school dads they were all married to women who stayed home with the kids and took care of 100% of the home so their experience was not that different from any other male in medical school. None of the moms in my class had stay at home partners. I felt like the input of medical student dads with stay at home partners was not at all relevant to the challenges of navigating medical training as a woman with a partner who works. I once walked in on one of these dads telling a group of (female) medical students that having kids during med school was totally do-able and that he was able to have a baby as an MS3 on his surgery clerkship.

    1. My medical school experience was the same as yours. I remember internally rolling my eyes when my male colleagues paraded their kids across my med school graduation stage with their stay at home wives or extended families living nearby to pick up literally all of the slack of having a family. And yes, they do "have to" find time to spend with their kids and wives, except a lot won't and will get divorced and have kids who grow up to hate them. Or maybe everything will be just peachy.

      Interestingly I found I had plenty in common with some of the men with kids once I started residency. Several men in my program had wives who were residents too, or who had other time consuming jobs, no family in the area to help, etc. They tended to have an outlook on career that resembled mine more than some of the women who had kids during residency, many of whom had explicitly expressed a desire to mommy track after residency. I have found my relationships with both incredibly helpful.

      I completely hear what you are saying, however.

  2. Dear Sophia, as a mother in medicine, I understand the temptation to dismiss the needs/concerns of fathers who seem to have it so much easier with their SAH wives. However, these fathers still miss their children, still need to spend time with them, still need to find the time and money to carve out adult time with their wives. The fact that their challenges are different than yours/mine, does not invalidate those challenges. As I often tell my students - one person's broken nail is another person's broken leg. Empathy should not be about measuring and weighing, but about seeing the world through another's eyes and learning to be kind to them without reservations.

  3. I love the idea of Parents Night Out. We have had a total of 2 date nights since baby was born - it's hard when you don't have family immediately nearby and I can imagine it would have been even harder on our double-negative income as students. I hope this idea is contagious and spreads to other schools too!

  4. Thank you for labeling this "Parent Learners" and not making parenting all about only the mothers in medicine. IMHO, making childcare a parents' issue, not just a mothers' issue, is important. Including men in these discussions (whether they have SAH spouses or not) brings work-life balance, child care, etc. out of the realm of "women's issues" and into, as it should be, a simple human dimension that both partners share.

    FWIW, I am a physician mom of 5 who started parenting as a learner. My husband was and is a stay at home dad to our kids. Even though I have it "easier" than my colleagues who have spouses who work outside the home, he and I still appreciate being included in these kinds of discussions.

  5. This is fantastic, KC. I'm sure there are folks in our local community who would be interested in making this a regular occurrence. Would love to chat with you about options. :)


Comments on posts older than 14 days are moderated as a spam precaution. So.Much.Spam.