Showing posts with label Mrs MD PhD. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mrs MD PhD. Show all posts

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Itty bitty ones and screen time


Screens! There are so many. And they are everywhere. Even AAP relaxed their screen time recommendations in recognition of the ubiquity of screens. I remember when my little one was born, AAP recommended no screens for children under 2. Current recommendations relaxed the no-screen age from 2 years to 18 months. Like many other things related to parenting, I have been flying by the seat of pants, and experimenting as I go along. Here are some observations from our ongoing screen time adventures.

Under 18 months? No screens for you: We did not adhere to that. Part of it has to do with very different approaches that me and my husband take to screens (and parenting in general). I was the stickler in the beginning, determined that my child would view no screen until 2 years. Husband is several notches more laissez faire than me, felt screens were fine birth onwards. After several battles, a compromise was reached. I don't recall the exact age, but it was somewhere between 12 and 18 months.

So many screens and so little time: At first, I didn't distinguish between different kinds of screens and let the toddler do as he wanted. TV? Sure! iPhone? Why not! Laptop? Here ya go! But then I dialed it back quickly after seeing him flip from one video to another at a dizzying pace on the touchscreen phone. My toddler has pretty good attention span for doing tasks, but watching him with that level of stimulation gave me future ADHD nightmares. For now, I have stuck to less interactive screens like TV. Watch a show. Finish viewing. Turn it off.

Screen as a pacifier: Kids and restaurants don't mix well together. "Twenty minutes in a high chair is about all you can reasonably expect from a toddler... Little bodies need to move" When he was having a meltdown, initially a smartphone seemed like a very effective pacifier. Avoid the angry stares from other patrons. Enjoy our meals in peace for a little bit. But then our child became Pavlov, and we were his little rats. When every meltdown was rewarded with a phone, they just became more frequent. Eating out is an important social skill. Sowing seeds for that ineptitude so early didn't quite sit right with me. So I stopped caring about strangers stares. If the meltdown was too intense, one of us walked out with him until he calmed down. Now instead of playing with a phone at a restaurant, he plays with his food. Baby steps!

Screen as babysitter: AAP recommends against using screens like electronic babysitters. Easier said than done! As I discussed some of my childcare challenges with limited financial resources in a previous post, this is the rule I feel guiltiest about breaking, but I continue to break it anyway. In AAP's ideal world, "parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing". In my real world, while my child is glued to the front of a TV, that is some precious time to hastily get stuff done. However I did find a workaround through a loophole for that AAP recommendation. Toddlers love to view the same thing over and over. We cut the cord and watch most of our TV via Netflix/Amazon Prime etc. I watch a few episodes of some shows with him, and then play the same ones over and over for him.

All programming is not created equal: I have found PBS to be the highest quality, though even with PBS, not all shows are equally good. By far my favorites are Sesame Street, Daniel Tiger and Peg+Cat. There was a even a study showing correlation between Daniel Tiger viewing and children's emotional intelligence. Adding anecdotal evidence, I have taught my son to apologize using the episode where Daniel Tiger learns to apologize. And to clean up after himself using Daniel Tiger's jingles "Clean up, pick up, put away. Clean up, everyday".


Practicing the preaching: All this fussing about my toddler and his screen habits have made me rethink my own screen time. Excluding unavoidable screen time (work/school related), I tried to take an inventory of the my avoidable screen time. I am not much of a regular TV watcher, my biggest avoidable time sink was checking social media on my smart phone. A strategy that I have had moderate success with involved creating extra hurdles to view social media. You can read about it in greater detail at my blog here. Less time with my face in a screen meant more time being present (actually present) for my munchkin.

It's been a bumpy ride but I feel like we have reached somewhat of a steady state with our relationship with screens... for now. But these pesky children keep growing up, ensuring that the steady state will not stay so for long. Screen time for kiddos has been in recent news, with stories of links between increased screen time and diabetes risk and teens replacing drugs with smartphones. Even without those scary stories, I am dreading navigating the whole wild world of smart phones, video games, internet and social media when my itty bitty one is no longer so little and outgrows PBS Kids. Mothers in Medicine with children of all ages, share your own screen time adventures. What has guided your approach to your children and screens? What screen related rules do you use in your house? Did you have it all figured out or do you fumble around like me?

Monday, October 10, 2016

Money and mothers in medical training

Children are expensive. So is medical school. Children take up a lot of time. So does medical school. Unfortunately time and money are two things in considerable shortage during medical training. Mixing children and medical school can be an unhappy combination. We had our baby halfway through medical school (me) and residency (the Mister). There has been lots of discussion regarding the timing of procreation in medicine (eg here and here and on this blog). My general takeaway can best be summarized with this license plate.

I have found some serious life wisdom on vehicle license plates.

My general takeaway 1.1 regarding the subject of timing babies in medical training is that there is no perfect time. Each time is good in some respect and not so great in others. Having spent my 20s in pursuits of other advanced degrees, I didn't want to wait until I had a "real doctor job". But that meant that financially it was not such a great decision. Residents stipend is not enough for supporting a family, especially when one member of said family is incurring expenses of medical school. More than a third of our income goes to childcare expenses, and that's not even including food, diapers, and a multitude of other child related expenses. We are always worried if we'll be able to pay all our bills at the end of each month. I am in debt up to my eyeballs. Financial worries are always lurking in the background of my thoughts, and money has been on my mind even more as I am looking into taking out more loans for upcoming residency interviews.

A friend offered me wisdom from her interview experiences, telling me about some common interview questions, one of them being "Tell me about a difficult experience you had in medical school". I said (almost half jokingly), urrmm pretty much the entirety of medical school since having a baby has been one incredibly difficult experience. It is difficult to separate the experience of being a parent from that of being a medical student, and money has been one of the connecting threads between the two.

Daycare was the only affordable childcare option for us, and we are lucky to have hospital subsidized daycare. It was amusing (not really) when one of my classmates thought that "hospital subsidized" meant that all costs were covered by the hospital and it was free of charge. No, it just means there is a small discount. Though it is a "hospital affiliated daycare", but like most other daycares, it is not a 24/7 facility. Having both spouses in medical training means that both of us have very little control over our schedules. There are plenty of times that we are both working outside of daycare hours. And trainees may have an 80 hour a week work limit, but a child requires care 168 hours a week.

This same classmate who thought that daycare was free, was also surprised to learn that I hired baby sitters to study for medical school exams. "Wait, so every time you have to study, you have to pay someone to watch your kid? Can't you just put him in a playpen and do your studying?" Before I had a baby, I envisioned this picture of getting home from the hospital and spending daily finite hours of "quality time" with the little one and then he would, I don't know, put himself to bed or maybe I'd read him a little bedtime story at the end of which he'd dutifully doze off and sleep through the night, and I'd get more hours of "quality time" studying. Or just like my classmate I assumed that I would be studying while the baby/toddler would be happily playing by himself on the side with his toys, of course, without interrupting me. Those fantasies/assumptions disappeared pretty fast when a real baby (who is now a toddler) showed up.

Talking to other people in our situation (two medical trainees with no family close by) most options I heard of were not financially viable alternatives for us. I have heard people say to not worry about money and keep taking out loans because when I have a "real doctor job", I'll be able to pay it all off. Maybe there is truth to that. But when I look at the enormous amount of debt that I have already accumulated, and when I think about the uncertainty with future physician compensations, I don't feel comfortable taking out loans to whatever amount.

Things haven't always worked out great with this whole arrangement. I have less than perfect grades in medical school. I feel like if it was just the hours in the hospital and then I could come home and eat, pray, love or something, it would be fine. But because work just gets started after getting back home from work, is what makes it so hard. After a particularly rough rotation that had lots of nights and weekend shifts (read: "when daycare is not open" shifts) and an end of rotation exam, I bombed the exam. The course master told me that he was really surprised about my exam performance because the clinical portion of my grade was stellar and there was such a discrepancy between the clinical grade and the exam grade. I didn't know how to explain that for me studying for exams cost money. Whatever little savings we had, had recently disappeared after a family emergency, and as interview expenses had drawn closer, I had scrimped on getting sitters to study for tests.

As a minority it is sometimes difficult to explain or convince people even in the face of overwhelming evidence that social factors control how you experience your life and the color of your skin can change the opportunities and travails you encounter. At some point it is tiring to keep going through the explanations over and over and knowing that unless someone has actually been there, they really won't know what you are talking about. I feel that way about the experience of being a mother in medicine too. I could go blue in the face with my explanations but it is exhausting.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Surprise! Female physicians are paid less.


I am sure many of you have seen this recently published article about physician wage gender disparity in the New York Times. The original research article was published in JAMA Internal Medicine, and received a lot of popular press with mentions in the New York Times, Time magazine, Boston globe, Marie Claire and many others. I am always a little wary of science/research reporting. I sometimes try to read the primary research paper behind the news item, especially if the topic interests me. Pay equity for physicians is certainly a topic of interest for me.

This article put a specific number on the gender pay disparity: female physicians make roughly $20,000 per year less than male physicians. This is after adjusting for age, experience, faculty rank, specialty, scientific authorship, NIH funding, clinical trial participation, and Medicare reimbursements. This news came up in a non-work context with a male resident physician. He told me that the problem with these types of studies was that they don't account for the amount of work put in. According to him, "female physicians work less than male physicians". Well how do you mean sir? Do you mean more female physicians work part time? He said, "In my experience, women complain more and work less, period. They always have to go pick up their kids or some other excuse and they dump their work on me". Ugh! Alright then Dr. Curmudgeon.

The paper is well written and the research is pretty well done, I highly recommend reading. Sad statement, but female physicians being paid less won't come as a big surprise to anyone. Safe to say, I was being ironic in the blog post title. Gender based pay disparity occurs in the rest of the US workforce. The dicey question, which Dr. Curmudgeon raised, is the pay disparity unfair? It maybe unfair from a social standpoint. Women ending up with more childcare or household responsibility and not being able to match male productivity. But is it unfair from an economic standpoint? Are they truly being paid unequal amount for equal work? Is there is an inherent bias towards them? This paper suggests that there maybe a component of both social and economic unfairness.

Comparing unadjusted salaries, i.e. without taking into account specialty, faculty rank etc., the difference is even larger, $51,000 per year. It may be true that more women than men make choices that lead to being paid less, such as working in certain specialties or working part time. But women don't choose to be overtly discriminated against. The authors adjusted for a lot of factors that could explain the pay disparity and still found a gap of roughly $20,000. The authors lacked some information, most importantly, full time vs part time status. They did two things to counteract that. One, they used Medicare reimbursement in their multivariate analysis to adjust for clinical volume. Two, they eliminated bottom 25th percentile of income data, with the assumption that it would eliminate part-time workers from analysis. They are imperfect measures, but the best that could be done with the lack of available information.

I am pretty early in my training, and from my own limited experience, I do believe that there is at least some inherent bias. Dr. Curmudgeon is not an exception, there are more people like him inhabiting the medicine world. They may be outspoken about their biases, or maybe not, or maybe only in certain contexts. They may be aware of their biases, or maybe not. I suspect, a lot of Dr. Curmudgeons are even in positions where they can influence factors, like promotions and pays. If you have encountered one of these Dr. Curmudgeons, I'd be interested in hearing your stories in comments.

Monday, June 13, 2016

My cherries are damaged!



Ingenious idea, I thought! Youtube, my trusty friend, came through yet again with a genius how-to video to answer some mundane question of mine. We bought some yummy delicious cherries, and TC, my little Toddler Child, loves fruit. I didn't want him to aspirate a pit in a cherry fueled excitement. Last time he had cherries was several months ago when grandma methodically cut the goodness around the pit. But grandma has time and patience that I completely lack. I needed some quick and easy way to pit lots of cherries. Supposedly such gadgets as cherry pitters exist. But (a) I was sitting with a bag of cherries and a hungry toddler, and I needed something NOW and (b) I hate buying useless one trick pony kitchen equipment. Youtube how-to video to the rescue!



An empty wine bottle. Check. Chopsticks. Check check. So I spent the next 10 minutes pitting a lot of cherries. I may gone a little overboard, but there is something oddly satisfying about excising the pit out of a cherry with precision in one swift motion. Ten minutes later I proudly presented TC with a bowl full of "safe" cherries whose pits he wasn't going to aspirate or break his newly sprouted teeth chewing on. At first, TC let out an excited "Chays!". Yes, TC, delicious chays, dig in! TC picked up the first cherry, and his smile was quickly replaced with confusion. How strange, the first cherry was damaged with a hole. He continued to pick up cherry after cherry and putting them back, now with full-on disgust. I knew it was coming, and there it was! TC tossed the entire bowl of cherries on the floor, laid his head on the table and sobbed his lungs out for half an hour. Because his cherries were damaged.

Anyhoo, with that story as an introduction, I am excited and delighted to be writing for the MiM community! I found MiM a few years ago when I was pregnant and freaking out about how I was going to swing this whole motherhood thing while going through med school. As for all life advice, I turned to Dr. Google, who directed me to this blog. Through the years this blog provided me with some  reassurance that this whole mothering and medicining process doesn't always look pretty but there are others out there in the same boat who are making it work. And they are willing to share those messy stories. I felt that it was time to stop lurking and start giving back and putting my stories out there. You can find more about me in the about page of this blog. I also write my own blog, Mrs MD PhD, where you can find more about me. Feel free to regale me in comments below of how your toddler (or not so toddler) child(ren) laid waste the fruits of your labor and/or cunning.