Babies and Boards

Giving birth during medical school

Pregnancy, returning to school, matching into residency and breastfeeding: Med school moms tell all.

Women pursuing medicine show no signs of slowing down. Following steady increases, last year, almost half of all matriculants to medical schools were women, according to AACOM and AAMC data.

For many women, medical school coincides with their childbearing years. Having a baby in medical school taught Chioma Allen, DO, the importance of balance.

“There will be moments where medicine is going to have to come first, and sometimes my family is going to have to come first,” Dr. Allen says.

Timing your baby

For those who plan to conceive during medical school, The Rhode Island Medical Journal recommends timing birth and parental leave, if possible, for either the summer after first year or sometime during fourth year, though residency interview travel would have to be considered during fourth year.

Parker (3 years old) and Brooke Sforzini (pictured at 3 months old), children of Grace De Hoff, DO

A mentor told Grace DeHoff, DO, that if she wanted to pursue neurosurgery, medical school would be a better time to have children than residency, because residency would be too busy. Dr. DeHoff had her son during her second year of medical school and her daughter after graduation.

“I would recommend waiting until the second year, but third and fourth year are a little easier because your schedule is more flexible,” Dr. DeHoff says. “I would try really hard not to plan too much. Nothing with kids goes as planned.”

Managing schoolwork

Near the end of her pregnancy, Dr. Allen unexpectedly failed her board exams and felt defeated. The stress affected her pregnancy and led to her having an emergency C-section.

James Allen (1 year old), son of Chioma Allen, DO

Afterward, Dr. Allen felt pressure to recover as quickly as possible from her surgery, complete audition rotations and be ready to match into residency on time.

“I worked so hard to not be that pregnant girl on my rotations and make sure I graduated on time and in a sense, I was putting my schooling and career before my family, when family really is the most important thing in my life,” Dr. Allen says.

Another challenge of pregnancy during medical school is the need to avoid potentially dangerous exposures while completing rotations.

Rachel (3 years old) and Aaron Hakakian (4 months old), children of Anna Weinstein, OMS III

Paige Langhals-Totino, DO, requested an audition rotation through her school, which forgot to tell the attending physician she was pregnant. When she started the rotation, they weren’t prepared for her to be pregnant.

“He was scrambling last minute because I couldn’t be in certain situations because I was pregnant,” Dr. Langhals-Totino says. “I should have given him the heads up myself.”

There are also benefits to giving birth during medical school. For Anna Weinsten, OMS III, being a mother of two children in medical school made her stronger academically and she’s developed better time management.

“My strongest performance as a student has been in medical school because I have family, support and my children to brighten up my day,” says Weinstein, who had her daughter shortly before medical school and her son during her third year. “It’s been the greatest challenge but also the greatest blessing.”

Matching into residency

During her residency interviews, Dr. DeHoff was pregnant with her second child, but not noticeably so. She didn’t want a program’s bias affecting her chance to match into a competitive specialty.

Nearly 36 percent of mothers reported maternal discrimination in the workplace, according to a survey of mothers who are part of the online community Physicians Moms Group, founded by Hala Sabry, DO.

“They get flooded with applicants and they can pick and choose the best and very easily factor in someone’s disability or pregnancy into that decision,” Dr. DeHoff says.

In one medical school class, 90% of students surveyed were asked a potentially discriminatory question during their residency interview, according to the Journal of Graduate Medical Education. About 30% of medical students were asked about children and 10% of medical students were asked about pregnancy.

Federal laws states it is illegal to make an employment decision on the basis of sex, which includes pregnancy and child-rearing plans. Resident applicants are not required to answer these questions during residency interviews.

Paige Langhals-Totino, DO, and Grayson Totino (7 months old)

Dr. Langhals-Totino was also pregnant during her residency interviews. She often found programs would have a roundabout way of asking her how having a child would affect her residency with questions such as, ‘What is your support system like?’ and if she saw anything preventing her from starting residency.

She used this opportunity to let them know she had family in the area who would be able to help her.

“I often found a way to bring it up myself and tell them about my family in the area and the support I have for my situation so they didn’t need to worry about it,” Dr. Langhals-Totino says.

Gauging the family-friendliness of a residency program

Finding a family-centered residency in the Couples Match was a priority for Gretchen Sonnenberg, DO, and her husband.

As they read about different programs, they looked for language that referenced families, well-roundedness and a life outside of medicine.

They found their match at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.

“When we showed up for our interview, they asked why we didn’t bring our 4-month-old son along too,” Dr. Sonnenberg says. “They said they would have had a resident watch him as we were interviewing. They set the bar really high.”

Further reading: 

Motherhood and medicine: DO’s group for doctor moms has 65,000 members

Fatherhood and medical school: How two student dads make it work

6 comments

  1. The stresses and challenges of having and/or adopting a baby during medical school/residency are numerous.

    As a second year resident at the University of Ky., my attending took me to lunch and asked me whether he thought I ought to stay home with our son (adopted two years earlier). I recall telling him to let me know if I was not performing at the level he expected at any time and ‘Thanks, I’ll pay for my own lunch’. That said, I had a wonderfully supportive husband who took on the role of working parent while I finished residency.

    Children are a gift and a challenge at any time. The right time to have them is the time they arrive.

  2. I am currently a 4th year D.O. medical student doing surgery audition rotations with a 1 month old, and before that as a 9 month pregnant lady. I had my first during my second year and that was a much easier battle than this one with residency interviews, traveling, auditions, and 2 kids. My respect is there for you ladies! An attending told me yesterday “you are really breaking through that glass ceiling”. I’m glad to see how you ladies are showing them how we can do everything and having a family will not hold us back!

  3. Med school mom of six here. It is rough, and everyday I feel like it is impossible. Hopefully, we all get through this journey.

  4. As a first year med student with a 3-month old baby, these stories are so encouraging! Thank you to all the amazing mothers in medicine that have forged the way.

    1. What age of a 1st year medical student in us?
      I just graduated and i’m questioning my acceptance to motherhood :( i’m 26

      Everything is difficult for a women specially in my country which i’m working to work in other country and improve my CV. Do you thing that possible with a baby or with being pregnent

      1. In the U.S., we typically graduate college at the age of 21-22. So we’d enter medical school around that time.

Leave a comment Please see our comment policy