Medical Student Perspective: I'm a Parent and a Medical Student
I am a third-year medical student, and I have four school-aged children. In general, I have found being a parent while in medical school to be more good than bad. It does require a bit of juggling, a lot of support, and the willingness to be less than perfect (that one has been tough). Below are some of the "special" challenges faced by students who are also parents:
Child care - This one is huge. Depending on your school's curriculum, the preclinical years may afford some scheduling flexibility with relatively short periods of required attendance. The clinical years are very different. Hours are unpredictable and long, often starting before most day care centers open and ending after most of them close, including weekend days. Contingency plans need to be made for unpredictable child care needs like illness and school closures, as well. I have been incredibly lucky, because my mother lives with us and watches my kids (and drives them around, and watches them when they're sick and helps with homework). Finding flexible child care is essential for anyone with children who is considering medical school.
Studying - When my school friends bemoan weekends spent studying, I am sometimes torn between envy that they get to prepare more than I do and relief that I have a "legitimate" excuse to put down the books. I made a rule for myself at the beginning of school that I would not study when the kids and I were home together. Except for the day or two before exams, I've stuck with that rule pretty closely. It hasn't always been easy, and I have had to get creative at times. I rarely have blocks of time for studying; instead, I read for 5 or 10 minutes here and there throughout the day (in line at the grocery store, waiting at the doctor's office, even at stop lights when traffic is bad). When possible, I include the kids. During the preclinical years, the kids and I made a study board game. We made a game board and then came up with flash cards for each child and myself. We took turns rolling dice and answering a question from our personal deck. If you got the question right, you got to move your piece (I almost never won). It has been frustrating at times, knowing I would likely do better on tests if I had more time to prepare, but I've never failed an exam (knock on wood) and prioritizing time with my kids has been far more rewarding than better grades would have been.
Debra Ravert is pictured with her husband, Hayden; mother, Velma; and children: Justin (12), Owen (9), Sabrina (6) and Simon (6).
Special events - No parent likes to miss their children's special moments. Trick-or-treating, school concerts, belt ceremonies. I admit, I've missed some of these, but I've been able to make it to a lot. I think communication is key here. I talk to the kids about what events are most important to them. For example, my daughter had our matching Halloween costumes planned for months, so there was no way I could miss trick-or-treating this year. I try to let them know for each event whether I will definitely be there, hopefully be there or, unfortunately, going to have to miss. We have also been lucky to have a lot of loving grown-ups in their lives who are almost always able to attend when I cannot.
Emergencies - Before I started school, I worried a lot about the unforeseen - an acutely ill child, a car accident, a natural disaster. When you have children, your imagination gets a lot more vivid. I've been surprised to find that this has been one of the easiest things to cope with in school. When a real emergency comes up (and it's unrealistic to think that something won't in four years), the kids always come first. In daily life, there's a lot of give and take as I try to dedicate enough of myself to the kids and school, but in an emergency it's never been hard to walk away from school and do what needs to be done. I am fortunate that my school's administration has been unfailingly supportive when necessary, so that I have never felt pressure to make a different choice.
Personal life - I made an effort at the beginning of medical school to get to know my classmates, and I have made several good friends. This has resulted in some time away from the twin demands of school and family, but it is well worth it to feel part of the community. Medical school is demanding, and its unique pressures can be difficult for the uninitiated to understand. Having friends who share your struggles is essential. Maintaining relationships outside of school is also important. It is easy to think (and speak) of nothing but medicine, and talking regularly to people who do not live and breathe medical school keeps me sane and somewhat socially acceptable.
In many ways, being a parent has helped me in school. I have no choice but to balance school with life. I have learned a lot during my time in medical school. Not just the art and science of medicine that I came to learn, but a lot about myself. I know what matters to me. I have had to let go a lot of my perfectionist tendencies. I am not always able to do everything I'd like exactly as I'd like to do it, but in 18 months I'll be a doctor. I'm proud of the example I'm setting for my children, and all of us are learning valuable lessons about priorities and flexibility during the journey.
University of Maryland School of Medicine
Class of 2014
Back to May 2013 Issue of IMpact