Advice for parents in medical school or residency

Being a single mother in medical school and residency isn’t a piece of cake. But, being a single parent in this world isn’t a piece of cake, either, and being a medical student and / or resident isn’t a piece of cake. Foregoing medical school isn’t necessarily the answer to any of that.

Here is some general advice I will share with parents, single or otherwise, who are facing decisions about medical school and residency. These answers cover a mishmash of frequently asked questions that come up in comments and emails.

For single parents or parents whose partner will not be available for child care. You will need to have a very, very flexible, very solid support system. For clinical years and residency, you will be expected to change what time you come and go on a moment’s notice. The rotation you are on most likely will change every four to six weeks, and the demands, time wise, may change day to day on certain rotations. These hours can be as early as 5am or even earlier, and you can be expected to stay way past midnight, even all night. Some of these times you can plan for, and some you can’t. Living near family is very, very important for those of us who can arrange for that. It definitely can be done without family, but please keep in mind the expense and issues with screening and turnover of caregivers.

For people who are facing custody issues, possibly moving for residency, lack of familial support in their particular area. I feel for you. Co-parenting arrangements are very difficult. Depending on a lot of factors, you may need to be willing to move for residency, especially for certain specialties or even for some of your rotations. This may involve moving to a place your ex doesn’t want you to move to, or moving to a place away from familial or social support. The judge may not look to kindly upon you leaving town with a child or children to a place where you know no one and will be working 80 hours a week, including nights, no matter how much you love your kids and parent well. And, there is a reason for that. Is it doable? Yes. Is it a good idea? Depends. Keep this in mind before embarking on medical school. This is one reason I wish I had done ARNP midwifery instead of medical school, occasionally. I wouldn’t have to do the match for obstetrics residency. I had reasons not to go the nursing route then, and those are still valid.

For people trying to decide between nurse practitioner, midwifery, physician, and other avenues of the medical profession. I really stumbled into medicine without a full understanding of how involved the process was, when it came to board exams, residency match, etc. I am still not fully informed on what it takes to be most of the other options available. Please research the nitty gritty, and you will still be surprised by the reality of how the sausage is made.

As for whether or not you can handle it … I think we can all handle a lot. I think there are times at work, even at 4am, in which I am exhilarated, and so happy that I chose my path. There are times when I am with my kids that are quality times, and everything seems to work out. There are times in which I feel completely overwhelmed, where I cry at work, and then cry at home because these kids who I wanted to desperately to spend time with when I was stuck at the hospital are bickering with me and with each other, and all I want to do is send everyone to their rooms. No matter what happens this March when I find out if I match in obstetrics or family practice, I will be happy as a physician. I will also have regrets. I think this will apply to anyone, no matter where their choices lead them.

For people who are older. I was not the oldest person in my medical school. I am not the oldest person in my residency program. I think it is more of an issue with your peers than with your professors and attending physicians, who may be your age. They don’t think they are less skilled, and may identify with you more readily than they do younger students. Some people may say it’s a waste of investment of a medical school spot or residency spot that a younger person who would give more back deserves more. People say this about women in medicine, too, and that we want to go pop out babies and work part time when we are done with training. All these people can, um, stuff it.

For people who have a history in the “natural” birth community, or are just crunchy types looking into medical school. There is definitely room for us in all aspects of the medical community. I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity in my medical school and in the medical community. One of the first events I participated in for medical school was a social event at a bar, and one of my classmates, a massage therapist, was a few sheets to the wind and offering to balance my classmates’ chakras in a wobbly kind of way. I sat next to a grandmother who caught her own grandchild at a home birth all of my second year.

However, medical school is long. Residency is long. It is a grueling, intensive slog. Make sure you are doing it to become a physician. If you want to be a doula, be a doula. I will not be a doula or a lay midwife if I am an obstetrician, or even if I am a family practitioner. It is not worth the effort to go through all the extra training, and the infrastructure is very inflexible and unforgiving. You potentially will be choosing battles constantly, and need to know your place as a matter of respect and experience and survival. Does that mean always stuffing it?  No. But, it means often stuffing it.

“MomTFH”, MD is a resident who blogs at Mom’s Tinfoil Hat.

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  • Shawn Foster

    great blog, tfh mom. Younger students don’t make a better use of the spot if they don’t know themselves, and aren’t acknowledging the possibility of burnout. People who can handle failure and have lived a real life are also needed.

    • http://twitter.com/momstinfoilhat Hilary Gerber

      Thanks!