I am a twenty-seven-year-old who is applying to medical school next year. I would start in Fall of 2013. By the time I start medical school I will be twenty-nine and my partner will be thirty-seven. We will most likely be in a new city far from family and friends, and our main income will be from school loans and scholarships.
Here’s our problem: we really want to have children. Have any of you successfully raised a family and completed your MD? — MJ
Have any of you been enrolled in demanding academic programs while beginning your family? What was your experience like?
Comments on Is starting medical school compatible with raising a family?
My husband is currently in medical school and I’ll be applying next year, starting in Fall of 2013 as well. We have two kids, a two year old and a two month old. We had our son just as my husband started his first semester and I won’t lie, it’s been hard. The way we planned it was that he would get started on med school and after we had our second (meaning we were pretty specific on baby planning), I would go ahead and pursue it.
The thing is that we have both of our families around, and they do help, but unfortunately it’s still won’t be enough once I start med school. I’m pretty sure we’re going to need a part time nanny at one point and the way we planned it was to minimize outside help.
I do know of another couple who’s husband just completed his MD and she just had their first child about a month ago as a second year med student. Of course they were “lucky” in having their daughter in the summer instead of the school year, but I think she’s taking next semester off. So there’s that too. You might have to take some time off and get back on the saddle, which does happen.
Personally I KNOW in my head and I strongly feel that it’s completely possible, although with some heavy sacrifices. It’s going to be hard from practically every aspect of it, but it’s doable. At least that what I’ve convinced myself and having had our kids while I was in undergrad, I feel even stronger about it.
If you haven’t already, try mommd.com and the student doctor network forums, although mommd has been way more helpful in my experience.
Best of luck!
I haven’t done it myself (I’m now two years out of my fellowship and due in a few weeks with our first), but I know several people from med school and residency who have done it. I don’t mean to discourage you, but it was hard for them, and from what you wrote it sounds like a lot of things that helped them survive wouldn’t be available to you.
If you go to a traditional medical school (two years preclinical/classwork, two years clinical/hospital work), the challenges in the first two years may be mainly social. If your school follows a very traditional lecture-based curriculum you can decide whether attending class or reading/studying on your own makes the most sense for you, which might allow you (if you’re super-disciplined) to study while sharing child care duties. You would mainly miss out on the class bonding/informal study sessions that actually are really helpful in getting you through some of the challenges, just because you wouldn’t be around as much. But if you deliberately choose a school that has a good cohort of parents in each class, you can find your own support group. If your school uses a small-group based curriculum, you will have to be physically present much more often. I don’t know what your partner does or how much you can spend on childcare, since you won’t have family nearby. But at least the hours you’ll need care are during the day and fairly predictable. Asking a lot of questions during the interview process can help you identify schools that are more family-friendly during the preclinical years. It is totally acceptable to email an admissions office and ask them to put you in touch with students who are parents and are willing to talk about their experiences.
The clinical years are tough no matter where you go. Your schedule will change every two to eight weeks, maybe radically–you could go from a 9-5 rotation to a 4 am to 10 pm rotation, to night float, to in-house call, so finding a daycare that can accomodate that is pretty difficult. Your team may be less than sympathetic if you show up late for rounds because your caregiver got stuck in traffic, or if you miss days because your kid is sick at home. Same for if you say that you have to leave by a certain time to relieve your partner or your caregiver; in general, your day ends when your last patient is safely discharged or signed out to the oncoming team, and you may have very little control over when that happens. Not all rotations are like this, but most of the long ones and the ones where your grades will be most important on your residency applications (medicine, surgery, most sub-internships) are. The key question here is how much of the child-care responsibilities your partner is willing/able to take on, so you can have maximum schedule flexibility.
To be totally honest, most of the parents I knew in med school were men with SAH wives or women with husbands who made a lot of money and could afford child care and help around the house. And even for them, it was a struggle, and it definitely shaped their later choices (where to go for residency, what to specialize in, how much debt they were willing to carry). Pretty much all of the moms I know have shown up for rounds in tears and threatening to quit at least once, even though they love their job (and love having a family). Since I will be 36 when I have kid #1, 29 doesn’t seem that old to me 🙂 and if you do consider waiting, other times (later in residency and during fellowship) can be a good bit easier. But if you’re really committed to starting soon I would have a serious talk with your partner about how child care would work and how much they’re willing to sacrifice (would they be willing to be a SAH parent for a few years?), think about whether you would be willing to take a year off during school if necessary, and make family-friendliness an important factor in choosing a med school (maybe over things like location, prestige, etc.) Without family of your own close by, you will absolutely need a strong network of student-parents around you. Good luck!
We did not have children when my husband went through medical school, but I can say from my experience that it was hard enough to keep our marriage intact through his training. The hours are crazy, and it is a very high stress program.
You could choose to have children sooner, but in my opinion, you would enjoy having children a lot more when you are finished school.
I am just about to complete my Ph.D. in clinical psychology. I don’t know about an MD, but it took me 7 years to finish my Ph.D (which is the national average) and I have been told it is more rigorous than an MD in some ways. I am 7 months pregnant and had my first son about 2.5 years ago. I would say that there are pros and cons (like everything in life) to having a family and a challenging educational path at the same time. The major pro was that it helped me put my educational career in perspective. Before getting pregnant and giving birth, it was the end of the world if I didn’t get an A on an exam or finish my projects (thesis, qualifying exam, dissertation) on the time line I had originally set. After the baby, all of this seemed way less important. The cons are pretty obvious, less sleep, less time, less money, less going out for drinks and bonding with other students, etc. My biggest advise would be to wait at least a year or two in. I had 4 years in my program when I started (I know MDs are shorter programs), but I couldn’t have started both at the same time. In my humble opinion, getting your feet wet and your barings in your schooling before you embark on the baby journey would be best. I was 36 when I got pregnant with my son, and I am so glad I waited. I have the rest of my life to be a mom, but those few extra years made a big difference for me. If I had started both at the same time, I probably wouldn’t have finished my degree. But that’s just me.
I know SEVERAL women who have had children during medical school (including a mom of 6, who had babies 1 and 2 during med school and 3 and 4 during internship/residency AND a mom of 4 who had 1 in med school and 2 during internship and residency). Both of them had/have partners with very flexible schedules (either part time or stay at home partners). Both of them took longer to complete internship and residency, but they did it.
I didn’t go through med school, but I did get my PhD in clinical psych. I was able to finish my coursework in 5 years, and then took a year “off” after having my first son (I was completing my dissertation). I completed my residency while pregnant with my second. It took a total of 7 years to finish my degree. It was unbelievably difficult. I am not sure I could have done it without a full time nanny, and a partner with an income that supported our family. I have a dear friend (mother of 3) who is a single mom in med school right now. She is entirely supported by loans, and very generous support from her family. She also has a full time nanny, and a very supportive group of people willing to help her when she needs time to study. Though she loves school, and has always wanted to be a doctor, it has been a real challenge for her. I don’t say this to discourage you, it certainly can be done, it isn’t easy though.
We are expecting our first. We got pregnant the month after graduating from law school (me) and medical school (husband). He is in his intern year. I think we have it easier than both being in school because I will be able to take about 7 months off between public interest fellowships to stay home with our baby, and if I was still in school I would have to take a semester off since I’m due in February. My husband has been able to reschedule his more intense months for before my due date, and his program supports paternity leave which is wonderful. That said, I have a number of friends who have had not one but TWO babies during law school and it worked really well for them. My husband likewise had a number of classmates who had babies in the 3rd and 4th years of medical school, and these men and women are all starting stellar careers. They had good family support, but both were married to spouses who were also in medical school! For women, it seems to me that it might be easier logistics-wise to have a baby in med school as opposed to residency because you don’t have the responsibilities of a resident and it can be easier to schedule your rotations around the birth. My husband had a really low-key schedule 4th year especially after interview season was over.
The way my mother-in-law put it when we decided to have a baby now, which many see as risky from the perspective of my nascent legal career, is that while there is no “perfect” time to have a baby, really ANY time is the right time to have a wanted baby. In other words, you will make it work. I am only 27, but we really felt like we shouldn’t wait around for this most important part of our lives! Good luck with med school and baby-having!
I really like what you said at the end “Any time is the right time to have a wanted baby.” While I am not currently in medical school (though it is an idea I’m thinking on), my husband is military and I have completed two degrees and am currently working a job that I cannot leave for a few years and my husband will be sent to another base in the next few months. We spend a lot of time apart and even more time away from family and friends that could help us. If you know you want kids and you know you what a career, just know that when people say it is “hard” they mean really emotionally difficult with multiple guilt/conflicting feelings overwhelming you at times. It is not easy. It sucks to have a sick child and not be able to stay home and care for it the way you want to because you have clinicals/exams. So many times I felt unhappy and I had to sit and have a thoughtful internal conversation about what was happening and what could I do about it. I had to ask myself if this was too difficult to continue or if the payoff at the end would be worth the sacrifices. I was usually the one who cared for our child because my husband deploys, but now the situation is reversed and I spend days at a time not seeing them. My family talks constantly to each other, makes an effort to communicate and update, and we ask those serious questions. Just ask yourself what you want in the end because you are going to miss a lot, be very stressed out, and feel unhappy at times while you’re going through this process. But, like everyone has said, it is absolutely doable if you want to do it. Good luck!
My sister-in-law had her first child in her first year of residency, and as far as I know spent a LOT of time planning out when exactly would be the best time for that. My brother-in-law is a full-time stay-at-home dad, and my sister-in-law had to switch to her second choice specialty because her first choice was too stressful and gave her serious health problems.
It seems like most doctors have kids later in life, in their early 40s rather than their early 30s?
I am a single mom going to school full time working towards going to NCNM and it is rough but I think if it’s something you are passionate about and if you’re not afraid of the late nights/early mornings and working your ass off it’s totally possible. Also having a good support system is pretty essential – at least for me. I do get overwhelmed and need that break from time to time.
i’m currently a second-year med student, and we’re aiming to get pregnant any day now. =) i will take a year-long leave of absence once the kid arrives (i’m getting an MPH in addition to my medical degree, so i’ll be able to fill that year with “something useful,” academics-wise.) hopefully, that leave will start next summer, so that i can take boards, take a year off, and then join in again with the class under me as they begin their clinical rotations.
that said, i was halfway through my first year before we realized that medical school — and specifically those first and second years, all preclinical — was the only time for the next 7-ish years that i’d have the flexibility we wanted in in terms of time off to be with a kidlet. had i known then what i know now, i’d have tried to come into med school pregnant or, better yet, had the kid first, and split at least one of my pre-clinical years into two with half-time courses.
also, if you don’t already have a child outside the womb by the time you’re interviewing, i would be sneaky about the way you ask about the school’s “extenuating circumstances” policies. it’s important to find out that information — for example, my school requires that you graduate within six years of matriculation — but you don’t want to give them a “weakness” to mark you down for. (i say that in quotes and with sarcasm — *i* know motherhood isn’t a weakness, but i’ve met many medical educators and decision-makers who unfortunately think you shouldn’t be there if you’re not willing to sacrifice everything else.)
it can be done. depending on your priorities and circumstances, it can be best. the faculty member who convinced me is a doc, as is his wife, and she was pregnant with/delivered their firstborn during her intern year (with hyperemesis and a couple other complications on top if it). it sounded like hell. that’s why we — oh, my husband is a phd physicist, btw — are looking to take the time *now*, when i have it, when i’m not responsible for patients yet.
best of luck!
oh, also wanted to add — there’s LOTS of insight and support to be found on this and all sorts of related related topics on the forums at Mom MD. (mommd.com/forum, i think?)
they’re exactly as they sound — women discussing the joys and challenges of being female in the still-old-boys’-club world of medicine, balancing motherhood and a demanding career…and it’s considerably saner than several other mommy-forums i’ve stopped in on. =)
My husband and I started dating while he was filling out med school apps and we got married during his 2nd year of residency. We don’t have kids yet and I am very glad we waited. He had coworkers/peers who had kids prior to or during their enrollment and it was very difficult for them.
When Sammit (husband) entered school the spousal support group there encouraged us to wait to get married. They said statistically 70% of relationships end during med school REGARDLESS of their commitment level (long distance, new, committed, marriages, etc). They begged us not to get married if we weren’t already.
Sammit’s stress level was very high the entire time, and it gets really complicated really fast if you fail a course or board exam (which he did because he was attending to life). Things got much easier when we was out of school and in residency – MUCH easier, but it was still difficult. He could work 80 hour weeks for months at a time. The hospital could change his schedule with no notice (oh, you had plans to go away for the weekend, yeah…I’m going to need you to come in on Saturday). Not to mention he was on call 3-5 times a month – meaning once a week he was away from the house and working/awake for 30 hours – and completely useless for the next two days when he was recovering from the lack of sleep.
Having said all of that, we’ve seen people do it – we’re just really glad we didn’t. Sorry if that’s not encouraging -_-
I’m only doing the RN program- and while it is strenuous, nothing in comparison to med school. Just doing the RN program with 2 teenagers and a toddler is extremely difficult.
My advice would depend partially on your partner. Is your partner staying home or working full time? Or in school also? Without a support system in place via friends and family it’s going to be really, really hard. What are you going to do when the baby gets sick? And the baby will get sick- even if the baby never leaves the house or is exposed to anyone but you- the baby will get sick.
Can you study with three hours of sleep? Baby’s don’t sleep through the night for quite a while. (A year, if you’re lucky). Are you okay with your kid being in day care for 8 or 9 hours a day if your partner is working?
It can be done. But I wouldn’t recommend it.
My husband is just starting up his 2nd year. He’ll be taking a break in between 2nd and 3rd year to get a MPH (masters of Public Health). By the time he graduates he’ll be 33 and I will be 31. (and that isn’t counting residency or any of that jazz).
For us thinking about starting a family isn’t even a speck in the realm of possibility until after he begins his residency. I am trying to go back to school for my Masters in a year and a half and also training for the Olympics for Judo. (So pregnancy would clearly put a damper on that for me anyway) We don’t have a solid support system during his 3rd and 4th year because we will be away from family. (we move an hour and a half away from his family for those years).
We want to be able to follow our dreams as far as possible without the fear of neglecting our kids (I know some people can do it, but we’ve agreed we are too selfish to be able commit to the kids as much as they deserve and work towards our goals without regret.)
First year was terribly stressful trying to make things work and not feeling neglecting ourselves even though we both have very busy schedules.
So for US the answer is to WAIT!
That being said he does have a classmate who has two young children and her husband is going for a PHD. She said she treats it like a job and has certain hours for studying. She does get stressed sometimes, but they make it work. Clinicals may be rough but as far as residency goes you will choose what you want to do so you don’t have to have crazy hours.
Congrats on making the decision to apply to medical school! I’ve been so happy with my decision. I’m a woman and also a second year medical student. I started medical school at age 30.
I noticed most of the comments thus far were in reference to the father/husband being in medical school. This is a much more common scenario, despite women making up nearly 50% of the student body at most medical schools. I imagine it is very difficult being an expecting father and in medical school, but the reality is that it’s far more difficult for an expecting mother. And far less common.
After speaking with deans and various other female medical students, I am told that the first 2 years of medical school are the best time to have a baby. It’s mostly classroom learning (depending on your school curriculum), which allows for you to miss class and not be penalized. Many schools now record and have their lectures online. The big exam you need to be worried about is Step 1, which is taken in the summer after your 2nd year. It might be difficult to have a baby around a time when you are supposed to be studying 24/7.
Your 3rd and 4th years are spent in the hospital, which makes it more difficult to miss b/c you have to physically be present when you are expected to be there. However, I am told you can make it work. If you need to take time off for a short maternity leave during your 3rd year, you can make up those absent weeks during your 4th year. There’s a bit of downtime in 4th year for you to do electives, study for boards and interview for residency, if you can time it correctly then.
I am hoping to start family planning also sometime during the tail end of my second year, after the first board exam.
The key point: look for schools that are non-traditional friendly. Don’t necessarily ask during interviews about these sorts of things, but research online, see what people have to say. Look for information about other moms at the school, childcare programs, assistance, general attitude towards families. Mommd.com is a good place to start. And if you are in some sort of postbac program, ask your advisor and other women in your program. I learned a lot by just asking around and seeing what others had to say.
Good luck on your journey! I look forward to being a mother and a doctor. I hope to inspire my future children to go for their dreams.
I totally agree. I spoke with a few deans before entering my program (I am not doing med school but beginning a dual masters in Public Health and Nutrition Policy) and they said that generally speaking, the sooner the better. It’s harder closer to the end of any academic program because of the expectations (dissertation/thesis, rotations, etc.) but class time can be negotiated. That said, one Dean, who also went through med school, told me that she had both of her children during her residency. Her advice: “There’s never an easy time to have children. Everyone told us we were crazy, but we did it, and you just find a way to make it work. Is it really going to be easier later in life when you are trying to balance the responsibility of beginning a full time job and those expectations? No. You never actually know what the future holds. If you want a baby, have a baby.” I felt better after that. I’m due in February, and I’m planning to take a lighter academic course load in the spring, but I still plan to go. It will be hard, but will it really be any harder than working full time? I did that for 8 years before enrolling in my MPH/MS, and I can tell you that it doesn’t look like it. Employers aren’t as forgiving as professors.
As a 3rd year medical student pregnant with our first, I’d say start a family whenever you think you’re ready. Being a woman physician forces you to face the reality that there is never an absolutely perfect time to have kids. People will tell you never to get pregnant during first year of med school or during intern year, but only you can make those decisions. Take their advice into consideration, but only you and your partner can try to pick the ‘best’ time.
That being said-here’s my advice:
-Look around for family friendly schools. Some schools have different learning pathways that don’t require you to be in the classroom for 8+ hours every day–these are great for families! (a lot of the osteopathic schools have this option)
-Get in touch with fellow moms/moms-to-be at the school in your year or the years ahead of you. They will have great advice to share.
-Unfortunately, you may have to be very intentional about planning your pregnancies during medical school-make sure this is something you and your partner are ready for.
-While it can be difficult to be pregnant/have kids on clinical rotations (3-4th year), you can have a little more flexibility in where/when you are scheduled. Most people are very understanding and will make accommodations as needed.
-Most of all, have some serious talks with your partner to make sure you’re both on board and willing to make a few sacrifices.
It’s not going to be easy, but it’s certainly not impossible! Good luck!!
Oh my gosh I’m so glad you asked this! I don’t have any real advice but I’m working on my applications now and have been discussing with my fiance when to start having kids. He would be a stay at home dad so that helps somewhat, but we want to have them somewhat sooner. Still we may have to push back trying a bit. Good luck finding a solution that works for you guys!
It’s late… I haven’t had the time to read all of the replies here yet… but this woman should inspire you http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiona_Wood
you have a right to have children when you want to. just because you are able to plan doesn’t mean you should always have to plan your life around other things. some pregnancys just happen so plan as best you can. Ddefinitely learn how to wear your baby. put all your energy into how you ARE going to be able to do it. Med school can be a lot of debt but if you need to take more to get some child care do it. This may be nessisary as part of the investment your making going to med school.
My aunt went through medical school and she had a young son. She said it was really hard, and her husband stayed at home to take care of the child. Also, he would go visit his grandparents for a week during exams.
Still, she survived, and she’s a doctor, and my cousin is 32 now. 🙂 My aunt had two other children much later in life.
I know you asked for responses from those who have successfully done both–and I haven’t–but I thought I’d throw in my perspective.
My mom went back to school–undergrad and, later, med school–when I was young, around age 12. She did this all while being a single parent and working as an RN. And while there is a part of me that’s very proud of what she did, there’s also the huge part that feels neglected and taken advantage of, unfortunately. Because I was the oldest of 3 (my siblings are 2 and 8 years younger than I am), I was basically the parent to my brother and sister. (We had some family in the area, but there’s a limit to how much you can ask of them, I guess.) I had to grow up fast. I was the one who got the phone calls from the collection agencies, or had to take the check to the electric company before they cut off service, or had to tote laundry to the laundromat because our washer wasn’t working and we needed clean clothes for school.
And this puts me in a tough situation: I know how important it is for a parent to be happy in his or her own life, and not to live for the children. I think my mom got a lot of happiness from completing something that was her longtime dream. So I don’t want to judge my mom too harshly for prioritizing her happiness over ours–yet I still struggle with the effects of her decision.
I don’t know if this helps you at all. It sounds as if you and your partner are thinking it through now, which is more than (I think) my mom did. And I think if you and your partner have a strong relationship, and you have a decent support network around you, you could be fine.
Best of luck to you! 🙂
I completely sympathize with this. My mother completed her undergraduate degree and MSN while I was in elementary and high school, and had three other children during that time. She even completed her PhD with three boys in the house – the youngest turned 8 shortly before her graduation! (I was in college by that time.) The fact that she was able to do it is absolutely amazing – but there were a LOT of sacrifices involved, many made by me and my brothers. And frankly, it was a HUGE factor in my not having children.
My husband is in his second year of medical school (no kids yet for us), but if I’ve learned nothing else from this whole journey it’s that there will NEVER be a “great” time to have kids (or do anything big for that matter). Whether you’re a female student or a male student, there will never be a time when it is ideal to have kids. Medical school is tough to balance with little ones and so is residency! Does that mean we’re all going to wait eight years (or more) to have kids? Hell no. At least not us. I’m finishing up my master’s program in a few years then we’ll get going! My husband has a classmate that was pregnant when first year started with her second (had a 2.5 year old at home). She does very well (stays extremely organized and has a flexible partner). It will be tough but honestly it’ll be tough no matter what. Dillon said it right, “Statistically 70% of relationships end during med school REGARDLESS of their commitment level” (a fact that was used to try to scare me by so many people). Does that mean we went into med school expecting our relationship to fail? Does it mean it’s “not a good time” to get married? Hell no. Do what feels right for you, create a network of support, and be in it to win it. Medical school has been great for my husband, but sometimes it’s easy to let it consume your world (which it should not). Luckily, his school is actually great about emphasizing the need for family time/real life time. In my opinion, life doesn’t stop when you’re in med school and it doesn’t wait for you to pass your boards or finish residency. If you’re ready for kids to be a part of your life, I say make it happen.
I am an intern and mom to a kiddo under 1. It is WAY more difficult than I ever expected. You need 4 things to do it – 1. 500% commitment, 2. a 500% supportive husband that is on the same team as you, 3. willingness to make multiple personal sacrifices, and 4. the ablility to function well on 5 hours a sleep for the rest of your life. (I have slept 8 hours in a row twice in the past 12 months.) It’s tough, but somehow it’s managable. Someday when I have more time I’ll post a longer comment!
P.S. Med school is the easy part. Residency and post-residency is the hard part.
I’ve only just seen this question, so sorry if this is a little late to the party. A caveat to what I’m about to say- I’m a UK trained and practising doctor, though med school and the first years of work are gruelling wherever you are. I’m married but we have no children yet.
Medical school is damn hard- physically, emotionally and intellectually, and it’s hard on both you and your partner. The first few years of your career are even worse as the long and antisocial hours really kick in. I know a few couples who had children before the lady of the house started med school, and while they coped, I know they came damn near to splitting up due to the strain. Med school is unlike lots of other courses as it’s harder to fit in paid work due to the constraints of college hours, workload, longer semesters (so shorter vacations) and placements in different cities/ towns, so you find yourself money poor and time poor. It’s not an ideal situation to maintain a relationship in, and it’s certainly not ideal for raising a baby in.
I think you and your partner should do what’s right for you. There definitely exist couples who’ve made it work and had a baby while mama is at med school. However, they’re far and away the exception rather than the rule, and that’s for a good reason. The breakdown rate of relationships at med school and in the first few years of working life is notoriously high, and that’s without most couples having the extra pressure of a new baby also. I’m certainly not saying it can’t be done, but when the two of you are making the decision don’t forget to consider how you’d cope looking after a baby alone, in a town without your normal support network should your relationship break down.
Whichever route you choose, good luck.
MY husband and I will start next week our first quarter of Med School in Costa Rica, we have 2 kids a 6 y.o and a 2 y.o. They will be going to daycare during the day but I also have my mom to help as needed for nights, so you might wanna arrange some night time daycare for rotations and stuff. We have been planning this for sooooo long.The original plan was to start as soon as the baby was born, but he was born with a cleft lip and some other complications and I had to it off for the sake of my child, he is now healthy and happy so we are ready to go!
I know about a single mother of 4 who got through medical school in the US and she had a job to support them kids so there! it’s totally doable just make sure to arrange baby sitting situation other wise you might find yourself overwhelmed and stressed as hell and just keep in mind that you will fall over heels for the baby, so plan to take at least 6 mos to a year before you start med school! Best of luck!!! and just in case, in Costa Rica you can do med school in 5 years and it’s valid in the U.S you just have to take tests to be licensed over there! and here of school is a fraction of the cost about $7000 a year! crazy right? and the best part yet
! you can obtain a federal loan or a Sally Mae loan to pay for school here!!!!