I’m a physician married to a physician. Initially, I did not think I would face obstacles because of our dual career paths. I would soon learn; however, professional and personal sacrifices would be necessary for us to achieve our goals. This is my story as a training physician and a “single” mom, including some of the challenges I experienced being married to a physician.
I met my husband in the first year of medical school, and we began dating six months later. We weren’t married at the time of the residency match, so choosing to match together was a difficult decision. A significant hurdle for me was that his subspecialty (neurosurgery) was in the early match. Therefore, his match result would determine where I would target matching. This was my first experience realizing that our professional goals would not always coincide. I knew I wanted to pursue a reproductive endocrinology and infertility (REI) fellowship after residency, and my priority was to match in an OB/GYN residency program that had an REI fellowship and research opportunities. I knew that REI was a competitive match, and having these resources would be important to a successful match. He ultimately matched at an institution where there was no REI fellowship program. I had to choose: did I want to match with him or separate from him and pursue my professional goals at another distant training program. I ended up potentially sacrificing my fellowship aspirations and followed him to train at his institution.
While progressing through a busy clinical training program, I worked as hard as I could to find infertility related research opportunities in other departments, publish papers and obtain the highest scores I could on our yearly residency exams. Around this time, we got married.
But, now came the next dilemma. There were no REI fellowship programs in the state, and my husband still had years of training left. If I matched in an REI fellowship program after residency, I would have to move away from him for three years. I was determined to follow my career aspirations, and he was supportive, so I interviewed everywhere in the country. I didn’t want to take a chance of not matching. I was fortunate and matched, but in a program that was on the opposite side of the country. Now we were facing spending three years of being three times zones and several thousand miles apart.
During my fellowship, I naturally found myself surrounded by infertility and remember many days counseling patients younger than me who were struggling to conceive. I was all too aware that I was 35 years old, childless, with a husband on the other side the country. I did want to have children and wondered if I would even be able to conceive. I seriously considered doing IVF and freezing embryos but decided we should try to conceive on our own first.
Timing-wise, I wasn’t sure how successful this would be with my husband cross-country. I told myself we would try anyway and do the best we could for six months, then move on to IVF. I was truly surprised and quite fortunate to conceive naturally. But then, the sobering part struck: I was going to go through a pregnancy and be responsible for raising a child for eight months post-delivery alone.
As we both concluded our training, we began the search for our “real job.” Similar to our previous experience with the match, I knew this was going to be another challenge. I re-learned just how hard it is to find jobs for two highly subspecialized physicians in the same area where both spouses were happy with the opportunity. Thankfully, we ended up in the same city! We were now starting our professional careers as Dr. Johnson and Dr. Kathiresan, and would, once again, be living under the same roof.
After I got married, I made the decision to keep my maiden name for several reasons: 1. all of my degrees are in my name, 2. I thought it might be confusing for patients to see an Indian physician named “Dr. Johnson” and 3. I come from a family of three girls, and I wanted in some way to carry on the family name.
What is interesting and something I did not expect after completing all my years of training is I am often mistaken as “Mrs. Johnson.” It commonly happens when I take the kids to the pediatrician’s office or school. It also happens often when we get formal invitations to parties or weddings. It is typically addressed to “Dr. and Mrs. Johnson” or “Drs. Johnson.” It used to bother me. I worked hard to earn my title. My husband spent nine years of training, and I did seven years. He’s required to do one set of board exams, and I had two sets (for general OB/GYN and for REI). He’s a surgeon, and so am I. It’s not a competition. I am beyond proud of my husband, but my accomplishments are similar. In addition, I sacrificed my professional path in our journey and raised a child alone for a brief period.
I have come to realize that as a female physician in a dual physician family, it isn’t good enough for me to be a great physician to my patients. I also have a second and equally important job — to manage the house and kids. I have several roles and several #hatsIwear. I am a wife and mom, and I love those roles in my life and embrace the “Mrs. Johnson” title at home. But, I’m also a highly trained physician, and my title is also Dr. Kathiresan. I am inspired by so many amazing women physician’s using their voice to speak out against the gender inequality that exists for women in medicine today (#asawoman), and I wanted to share my story and some of the sacrifices it took for me to be a woman in medicine. I do not regret any of my decisions because they made me stronger.
In the end, the struggles were worth it to chase my dreams.
But, please don’t forget I earned my title just like my husband. It’s Dr., not Mrs.
Anu Kathiresan is a reproductive endocrinologist.
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