Showing posts with label medical education. Show all posts
Showing posts with label medical education. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

How Many Balls Can I Juggle?

I've been trying to dig deep and reflect on my own work-life balance... I feel like I'm living in a world in which my mantra to my learners and advisees is "Do as I say, not as I do."

I love to teach. I'm in an academic position because I thrive on teaching while working clinically. I teach medical students, residents, fellows and am engaged in faculty development. I'm encouraged by my mentors to "be academically productive" however I'm not entirely clear what that means. Write, publish, be educationally innovative, do research, stay sane and be a good mom and a good doctor. 

I need a new organizational scheme. My most successful portion of my organization is my google calendar. I literally cannot do anything without it. I've got it color coded and labeled. My week in view is dizzying with color coordination and notes. My to do lists, however, are scattered between different notebooks, notes on my phone, loose pieces of paper that find their way into the ether. I need a new work flow solution. I need to find a way to keep track of things and move my academic work forward in meaningful ways.

I sat down in a coffee shop the other day to try to make sense of it all and stratify things into columns and was overcome by this subtle feeling of butterflies and anxiety in the pit of my stomach. I've never really been ridden with anxiety, however this discomfort is rearing its head more and more frequently... feeling like I'm missing something, am forgetting something, am going to drop a ball, be found out as a fraud who cannot "do it all."

While I'm not junior in life, being a "non-traditional" physician, prior career as a nurse, I am early in my career as an academic physician. As such, I feel this pressure to continue to do things which further my personal and professional development. At the same time, I want to be sure that I am giving my son the time and dedication he needs from his mom.

As an ER doc, my schedule is widely variable, shifts in the day, evening, night, weekends, holidays. Sharing my son with his father affords me the opportunity to work academically without interruption about half of the time. There's still work which needs to be done when I have him. So, I try to balance it by not working while he's awake. Sometimes I'll have a random Tuesday free and we do arts and crafts, read, go to the park, ride bikes, run around playgrounds, run errands. These are the precious moments I hope he will remember and treasure... I know I do. We make meals together, he shares his days spent with my nanny and daycare and at night, I tuck him into bed, sometimes dozing with him. He looks at me beforehand, puts his little hand on my face and says "Mommy, I love you bigger than the Earth." After drifting off with him for a bit, I get up and set my sights on my late evening tasks... emails, curriculum development, evaluations, mentoring grand rounds presentations via chat mediums or Google Hangouts or FaceTime. 

I sit here sipping my chai tea, reviewing important dates for the next academic year, the next evolution of my growth and development as an educator, curricula which need updating and modification to be in line with current educational methodology, exploring alternative ways in which to teach and engage learners in an overall curriculum which has less and less "time" for what I feel needs to be included. 

I feel fortunate to have been given some incredible opportunities to take on leadership positions and influence our future doctors. How many of these am I capable of managing? Am I giving each of these precious opportunities the time and dedication required? Am I being the best educator and physician that I can be? Am I being the best mom I can be? Am I seeking out mentorship appropriately to optimize my productivity? Am I interfacing with the right people? Am I serving my learners to the best of my ability?

My life is a concept map.



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.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The things we do to succeed

I didn’t want to do it again, but here I go retaking my Pediatric Boards. I can list all of the reasons why I was unsuccessful at my first attempt: I was working too much (50-60 hours per week, getting paid to work 32), I was too stressed (issues with my former boss that I can’t discuss), I wasn’t sleeping enough, I have testing issues but my boss told me she couldn’t adjust my schedule so that I could study more. So here I am hundreds of miles away from home spending close to $2000 to take a 6-day intensive board preparation course. I am doing all that I can to succeed this time. And I refuse to allow the posttraumatic stress of retaking this test overshadow all that I am doing to succeed.


I have met so many outstanding doctors, most of them mothers, who have their own stories of failing their general boards or their specialty boards. These women are some of the best doctors I have ever met and provide exemplary care but they each failed the exam the first time. The stories read just like mine: working too much, stressed, not sleeping enough, family obligations, poor work-life balance. Some have a history of failing other board exams (USMLE or their specialty boards) but others don’t. Why does the cycle repeat? Why don’t we shake our little doctor sisters and say “wake up girl! There is no way you can balance all of this! Cut something back. Cut something out. Or else!”. “You can’t go on like this!”. “You either sacrifice now and focus primarily on passing or you’ll be forced to retake the test after failing!”. “Girl! Don’t do what I did. Let me tell you how I didn’t rock this test!!!!”. Or “Friend! Let me help you pass this test!”.

That’s how I want to recreate my narrative. I’m going to pass this test even if it’s by the skin of my teeth and then I’m going to mentor little sister docs so that they don’t make the same mistakes I did in post-residency auto-pilot mode thinking “well 60 hours is so much less than my resident’s 80 hour work week”. Let me tell you something - it’s not better after all of the years of sacrifice and don’t even pretend like you are not exhausted and burned out. And trying to work that much on top of passing this exam if you have even a hint of testing challenges is a major no-no.

So yeah, please Mothers in Medicine, send me some good vibes because I’m away from my family in this cold hotel room wrapped in blankets giving my all in order to succeed.

SIDE NOTE: In other random news, I just learned that the Peds Boards may become an open book test in 2017. Mwomp mwomp mwomp for me! If I could sit this round out, I would, but my new position depends on me passing this year. I hope the open book re-certification exam doesn’t cost more. Alright, I’m going to block all of that out and keep my nose to the grindstone.

EDIT: I removed the part about the salaries of the American Board of Peds folks because I cannot figure out how to fact-check it so it could be very untrue.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Trading fake patients for real people

MS2 Terrible Twos here. New to MiM, so here is a quick introduction. I am mom to a sweet nineteen month old boy who is into everything and lacks even the faintest inkling of self-preservation. In a former life I received a Bachelor's of Fine Arts from an art school here in the Bay Area, and worked for over a decade in advertising, marketing, corporate event design, apparel, and retail packaging design until I decided that pursuing a career in medicine was truly my dream. Thanks to a lot of hard work, a loving and patient husband, and tons of emotional support from friends and family, that dream has materialized and I am (as of last week) a second year medical student in the Bay Area in California.

Having just completed MS1, one of the most challenging aspects of the medical curriculum this year has been seeing through the text books, algorithms, power points, Quizlets, acronyms, mind maps, case studies, and patient vignettes and remembering that the purpose of all this learning is to support real, actual people with rich histories and complex emotions. The majority of my patient interactions feel so forced and so awkward – so robotic, scattered, and disjointed. I hear standardized patients describe their symptoms and feel myself responding stoically, without empathy to concerns like, “is this serious?”, or "am I going to die?" as I systematically wade my way through OLD CARTS and FED TACOS and remember what a relevant ROS might include for the few differentials I know to consider.

Throughout every standardized patient interaction, every practical exam, and even every time I have performed an H&P on a "real" patient in my school's student run free clinic, I feel as though what limits me from truly developing any sort of rapport with the patient in front of me, actual or standardized, is the tunnel vision that comes from trying to dot every i, cross every t, and check off each and every box on the syllabus.

I understand that there is a learning curve with all of this. As with many professional practices, the only way to get better at them is by doing them over and over again and I recognize that I'll be working toward that for the rest of my medical career. I suppose that what worries me is the fear that throughout my medical practice there will always be a syllabus to consider, be it a QI evaluation report, an insurance audit, filling in every blank on the EMR, or tending to some other system to which I am held accountable.

I would like to believe that all the the awkwardness of MS1 will start to subside as early as this summer when I volunteer at the free clinic -- that the relief of having completed one full year will allow me to relax a little and try to integrate the systematic thinking of MS1 into just another part of my experience and knowledge. My hope is that the breadth of my other experiences prior to coming to medical school, including being a mother, will begin to materialize within those interactions, allowing me to truly connect.

When did it happen for you? When do patients, even standardized ones, cease to present solely as a collection of their signs and symptoms and emerge as actual people, and what tools have you used to transcend the awkwardness of your early medical training?

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Season finale of “As the Residency Turns”

* DISCLAIMER: I meant to post this back in June as I finished residency but it got put aside as I filled out my umpteenth credentialing application. Here it is now. I wrote it 2 days before finishing my last primary care rotation of residency:

After 3 years of residency I have had some amazing interactions with patients. Amazing in the wonderful way the 9 month old whose well child checks you have always performed smiles and babbles when you walk in way and reaches out for you to hold her. Your heart opens wide, the parents are at ease and you think to yourself, “yeah, this is why I do this!” Or amazing in the way things go when a developmental delay I picked up is being addressed by Early Intervention and we can all see how the affected child is flourishing. Or when you talk that sexually active teen into being more assertive in communication with partners and you get her to get a Nexplanon.

Then I have had some intense interactions of the other kind. Intense in the I was so concerned that I called Child Protective Services and now a CPS worker is here with you and you are yelling at me and I am crying and I want to work with you so much but you hate me right now and won’t listen to anything I have to say kind of way. Intense in the way things go when a parent has what appears to be bipolar disorder and splits on providers and one minute says our hospital saved his/her child’s life and the next is cursing about how several of our providers did them wrong.

During the amazing ones, my heart soars, during the intense ones my heart plummets and I often get palpitations. I have been having a few day run of extreme highs and pitiful lows. I have 2 more days in clinic before my last day of residency at the end of June and there are so many loose ends. I realize that clinic is the only part of residency that resembles continuity; we do other rotations for a month at a time and are essentially visitors but in clinic you are like the cousin who comes home regularly for major holidays and family gatherings.  The end is in sight and I feel like I need some closure - so much so that I helped draft a letter to our patients from the graduating seniors updating our patients on where we would be going and now parents come in and say “Dr. Bee - you’re really leaving us?!?”.

There are so many amazing patients who will continue to grow and I will miss their new developments. And I have a few difficult patients who once I’m gone will literally have no one else who wants to work with them. 2 more days. What can and will I do? Why does it feel like such a huge deal? I think I’m scared and sad that things are coming to an end, it’s for the best, right? Why do I feel like a success and a failure all at the same time?

Saturday, April 4, 2015

A Teaching Moment

Genmedmom here. This was going to be a sweet little post about a teaching experience from my clinic yesterday. A patient presented with a classic clinical finding, and I knew that one of the other providers had a few students with them. So I asked the patient if I could bring in a student or two, and she cheerfully assented. It's been a very long time since I was involved in clinical instruction, and I enjoyed it.

I searched the web for a photo image or clip art to accompany this piece, something that illustrated a female doctor teaching medicine to students. I typed in all sorts of search phrases, but the vast majority of clipart or stock photos clearly depicting a doctor instructing medical students showed male doctors- and often with a lovely nurse standing by.

The best approximation of a female teaching physician that I could find was this (*and, this image is totally copyright of Disney Junior):




I mean, it's a good thing that Doc McStuffins exists, and that this image and the DVD it advertises exist. Not to imply a commercial plug; I must emphasize, I have no financial disclosures here! I just love the example she sets for little girls, all the pink and purple notwithstanding. She's a doctor, and her mom is too. They're African-american. The show is a hit. It's awesome.

So, why was this the only image I can find of a female doctor actively teaching medicine to students? This was mind-boggling to me. I needed to understand. I needed data to interpret; it's just my research fellowship training.

And I found data. According to the Kaiser Foundation, there are 893,851 practicing physicians in the United States, and 32% of those are women. The American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) has published a detailed breakdown of U.S. medical faculty, by rank, sex, race/ethnicity and specialty. Per their data for 2014 (which can be found at The AAMC website Reports page):


Of the 155,089 total U.S. medical faculty, 62% are male and 31% are female.

Of those that are at the higher ranks, as in professor or associate professor, 72% are male and 28% are female.

The breakdown by race/ ethnicity is frankly depressing, and I didn't even want to figure it out. For those of you that enjoy crunching numbers, have at it- there's tons of other good data in there as well.

It's clear that we need more women physician role models and teachers of medicine. So, what are the obstacles?

Well, in my case.... When I started by current position at a major academic medical center, I was involved in a medical school course geared towards fostering empathy and communication skills. I think every med school has these now, Patient/Doctor/Society type courses. But then I became pregnant with Babyboy, and realized I would be out on maternity leave for a chunk of the next session, so I never signed back up. Now, with two very young kids and enough to balance as it is, I'm not sure I want to take on the added responsibility of teaching...Not just right now.

I know my kids will get older, and I hope to get involved with teaching again someday. Likewise with medical volunteer work. I'm half Latina, I speak Spanish, and I've lived and worked in Latin America. At some point, I'd like to get re-involved in that work, as well as be a mentor for Latina students...Someday.

Meantime, I very much enjoyed interacting with our students over a case of erythema multiforme this week.

I'm curious what the doctor-moms out there think of these numbers. Do we need more female physicians teaching medicine? How about female minority physicians teaching medicine? And what do others think about Doc McStuffins?