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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
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
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
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