The journey to becoming a physician is not for the faint of heart. Medical students spend hours upon hours studying, taking practice tests, reading stacks of material, attending lectures and volunteering their time in the community. For student doctors who are fathers, the hours become fewer and the load becomes heavier to bear.
Students from Lincoln Memorial University-DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine (LMU-DCOM) were asked about how they balance the rigorous demands of medical school along with being a father, and agreed that while it is hard, it is worth it.
Time management is key
Dustin Craney, OMS III, was inspired to become a doctor after losing a best friend to suicide. It was at that moment he decided he wanted to do all that he could to improve the mental and overall health of others. Though a single dad, he didn’t let that stop him from pursuing his passion to become a physician.
In 2014, Craney and his energetic daughter Alexa moved to Tazewell, Tennessee, so that he could start the master’s program at LMU.
“It has been a tough transition to be away from family we relied on for help, support and emergency childcare,” Craney says. “But we have both grown to love the area and the people here.”
Craney says time management is crucial to balancing school, studying and fatherhood.
“Probably the hardest part is hearing her say, ‘It’s okay, Daddy, I know you have to study,’ when she is wanting to play, but I am still catching up for an exam,” Craney says.
Craney compared medical school to a raging locomotive that doesn’t stop for everyday problems like ear infections and calls from your child’s school. He says, “You prepare for big adjustments, schedule your time and life must go on.”
It’s all about savoring the moments.
“Every little bit of time that we can get together, even if it’s just a few minutes of Mario Kart before bedtime, means a lot in their eyes,” Craney said. “And it means a lot to you as a parent, when you can look back on those moments.”
Have a support system
Troy McCarty Jr., OMS IV, says his desire to become a doctor started with his mother, who was diagnosed with Non Hodgkin lymphoma. The care provided by her physicians during her chemoradiation treatment influenced him to want to seek out a similar kind of purpose in life. He continued to develop that purpose throughout high school and college, volunteering in hospitals and going on mission trips.
“I wanted to become a physician to leave a positive impact on the world,” McCarty says.
Medical school is challenging to say the least. McCarty says all of his fellow classmates made a huge decision and sacrifice to pursue medicine as a profession.
“I think it’s important to realize that upfront or you’re going to tear yourself apart with guilt,” McCarty says. “You might miss their first steps, their first words, and the funny faces they make when they try a new food. But, I remind myself that medical school is preparing and training me so that I can make sure other parents don’t miss those events in their own children’s lives.”
McCarty, who has been married for six years, calls his wife “a saint” for managing to work from home and watch both of their young children in-house. For him, having a good support system has been his key to balancing it all.
“There is no way I could manage school, studying and being a parent without it. Kudos to all of the single parents in my class,” McCarty says.
Focus on family
Another stressful part of medical school can be finances. McCarty advises other parents to focus less on material things and more on the memories they are making with their family.
“It’s difficult living on a medical school budget with a family relying on you,” McCarty says. “But if you’ve got food on the table, a roof over your heads, clothes on your back and you’re happy—I think you’re doing great. The rest will come with time.”
McCarty says there are many resources at LMU-DCOM that assist students with managing finances and programs in the surrounding area as well.
McCarty was accepted into the Navy’s Health Professions Scholarship Program which covered his cost of tuition for three years of medical school and came with a signing bonus and a monthly stipend. In addition, he is reimbursed for required textbooks and board examinations. In return, he will serve on active duty for the number of years he was reimbursed for medical education.
Choosing to go to medical school often involves moving across the country, and when family is involved it can be a difficult decision.
“If you had asked my wife and me five years ago if we would have ever envisioned ourselves living in the mountains, I’m pretty sure the answer would’ve been no,” McCarty says. “That being said, we have loved the outdoor activities, slower pace of life and beauty of the mountains.” McCarty, who is now doing clinical rotations in Tampa, Florida, said, “We thoroughly enjoyed living in the Harrogate area.”
His final advice to other student doctors raising a family: “Make the best out of the time you do have with your family. Incorporate breaks into your schedule so that you can all go for a hike, go get coffee, go to the movies or go tubing down the river. You might feel guilty at times for events you’re missing, but it’s important to focus on your long-term goals.”