Moms speak out

10 moms give 10 pieces of advice about parenting in med school and beyond

Med student and DO moms share words of wisdom on parenting while becoming a doctor and navigating a career in medicine.

Mothers who have children during medical school or after becoming physicians face unique challenges.

In a recent JAMA essay, a physician mom who started her intern year with a 2-month-old baby reflects on her journey to breastfeed her son no matter what. She pumped just about everywhere, from her car to clinic exam rooms with a battery pack, and in the process realized the importance of self-care.

As every family functions differently, do what you believe is best for your children. Ten women who became moms during medical school give their advice about how to succeed in medicine while having a family.

Share in the comments helpful advice you have for others on parenthood and medicine.

Responses have been lightly edited for The DO.

1. Know that having a baby and becoming a doctor is an achievable goal

“It is not impossible or crazy! I was so nervous when I first told someone that I was interested in having a baby during school because it’s often treated like a crazy idea for female students, but she was very supportive and her enthusiasm really made me feel like I could be successful both at school and at home. As a general rule for medical school, find those people who believe in you and keep them close.” —Charlee Abboud, OMS III

2. Ask for help

“I elicited the help of my family and friends to watch my baby while I’m in class. My best friend from college, who is in the same class as me, reviewed key points with me before exams, which helped tremendously.

My professors were also more than willing to allow me to postpone a couple exams so I could spend time with my newborn; one of them had even offered to hold my child while I asked questions during office hours. Midwestern University Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine let me extend my didactic years to three years so that I could have more time with my child during his first year of life.” —Geneva Marie Baruelo, OMS II

3. Understand that feeling guilt is natural—and manageable

“I still feel mommy guilt. Of course, most of my guilt now comes from the fact that I have a very sassy 5-year-old who likes to give me grief about working long hours. Medicine is a demanding field, and there will be times that the kids are still asleep when you leave in the morning and are already back in bed by the time you get home at night. You will miss soccer games and school programs. You might miss first steps or first words.

As a mother, I don’t think I will ever get over the guilt, but it does make me put forth the effort to be present and attentive with my kids when I am at home, even though what I would really like to do is sit with my feet propped up and take a nap. I just try to make the most of the time that I do have with them, because before I know it they won’t be little anymore.” —Selena Raines, DO

4. Find a tribe of other moms in medicine

“The pressure of trying to do well in school and grow a human among classmates who have no idea what you’re going through was really hard for me. I overcame it by reaching out to other med school moms via social media. I found a group of ladies all over the country raising kiddos and studying medicine who could answer questions or just be there in solidarity.” —Camille Hawkins, OMS III

5. Be flexible with your schedule

“Going with the flow and being where I am needed most is what works for my family. If my daughter is really fussy and needs more time with mom, then I take a night off from studying. If I have a huge exam coming up and I need to study without interruption, then I stay on campus or go somewhere else to study.

Most of the time I can study at home and take breaks to be with my family. Although it may seem stressful, being a mother in medical school has taught me to relax.”—Magdelene May, OMS II

6. Remind yourself it’s temporary

“Mothering over the phone and Facetime helps bridge the gap in my absence on away rotations, but nothing is quite the same as me being there. It is a daily struggle and I have a lot of support from my husband and both of our families. I just try to take each day in stride and remind myself why I am doing this and that it is only temporary.” —Shelby Willis, OMS III

7. Make milestones matter

“We have a rule in my house that whenever Jayden does something for the first time, it ‘doesn’t happen’ until I see it. For example, when she started rolling tummy to back, we waited until I was home and saw it myself before we talked about it.” —Jacqueline Segelnick, OMS IV

8. Make peace with your childcare decisions

“Most moms can relate to the feeling of not being enough or not doing enough for our kids. I combat the guilt by trusting the people who take care of him and knowing he is in good hands even when I’m not around. I also hope my son is inspired to find a profession that he is passionate about by watching his parents be dedicated to careers that they love.” —Brooke Steadman, OMS IV

9. Communicate your pumping needs

“It was important to me to breastfeed my daughter and I did that while at home, but it was challenging to keep up with pumping while on rotations. I found that being upfront from the first day of a rotation helped with this a lot. I explained that I have a beautiful young daughter at home and while I am away from her, I need to set aside time to pump every three to four hours. I would also ask where a good space was.

Doing this helped me get what I needed and set an expectation. I always brought my computer in my pumping bag so that I could work on notes or research topics while I was pumping.” —Chelsea Wickenheiser, DO

10. Speak up about memories you want to make with your children

“If there are things that are important for you to do with your children, be vocal about them. People can’t read your mind or know that you didn’t want someone else making Christmas cookies with your kids if you don’t tell them. Whether it’s a special book or a place you want to go, let them know.” —Stephanie Letney, DO

Further reading: 
Giving birth during medical school

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. Now let’s talk reality. You’ll miss birthdays, holidays, school functions and sports activities. We do this so we can be demonized, physically assaulted and sued by the people we’ve dedicated our lives to helping.
    It’s not too late to change professions.

    1. I have 4 amazing girls. I entered residency with a 2 month old, breast feeding, putting in 36 hr days, loving the down times. I have no guilt, missed no spots activities, even made Halloween costumes, Christmas Cookies and attended the girls piano lessons.

      My girls are now amazing women. All grown up and more independent than I had hoped…..

      The only thing I did not do was start my own private practice. I always worked in groups so that I could be sure not to miss out on whatever the girls needed. No regrets. Their upbringing was the priority.

      Now at 57 I have decided to start my own private practice and loving that too. Girls are out chasing their PhD, getting that engineer degree, and finishing that architect job. They are very self aware and kind women. All wicked smart, funny and kind.

      I had live in nannies, amazing parents that helped cart the girls to and from and there was a time or two the girls just joined me for Saturday hospital rounds. We still laugh at the memories of fun and mischief.

      Looking back, my girls kept me grounded, kept me filled with joy. Every day I got home from a long shift, it was Christmas!

      Structural bedtime routine also helped. The point is, my career is a blessing and neither my children nor I suffered because I chose to do both medicine and raise children. It can be done! Have confidence, get nanny help, plan, prioritize and do not second guess yourself. Do not sell yourself short. Live it all.

  2. Its interesting that you article was only about women in medicine. Man in medicine also face the challenges of parenting and family issues.
    Maybe you could do an article recognizing this
    and provide some insight into balancing parenting, family and career for men as well.

  3. I started medical school at age 38, with a 18 month old. I told my interview panel at TUCOM – CA that if I did not pursue my passion my family would suffer. I proceeded to have another child in medical school at age 40, splitting up my second year and paving the way for others to do the same. My philosophy for studying was to be one-focused for the time I was studying, to let go of the results and to realize I had everything I needed to succeed. In other words, not get into fear. I survived medical school and so did my kids, who are now 17 and 21, fully adjusted, happy and resilient.

  4. I find this article encouraging. So many relevant points. We women have to champion each other through difficult but rewarding decisions that can be made and shouldnt have to come with debilitating guilt. My cheering section was first my dad and then often just my spouse, because guilt and self pity prevented me from encouraging myself. I had twins as a 16 yr old in high school, my third child in first year of med school and fourth child as a first year radiology resident. There will always be a peanut gallery of naysayers, head shakers and eye rollers, but the rewards are worth it. Carving out regular family time is a must, as ours was usually saturdays and sunday mornings when i wasnt working. Being more cognitive of the importance of even small moments is paramount. If your children feel genuinely acknowledged and loved, they dont hold the crazy hours against you (believe me, I asked all 4 of them) . Premed moms, med school moms, intern moms, resident moms and attending physician moms need to hear that they can absolutely do both well, but its okay to know you cannot do both perfectly every minute of every day and its okay to ask for help (spouse, housekeeper, babysitter, gardener, grandparents etc) when needed. And moms and dads need to remember that self care is not selfish..not shopaholic kind of therapy, but moments alone to gather thoughts, ponder motivations, eating well, massage, etc to help with the perseverance that a medical career takes.

  5. First, Believe. I held onto the tenants that Children are a Gift from God, and He will not give me more than I can Handle, and God called me to serve him and has placed me in medical school and gifted me a child .
    Second. Set up the kind of childcare you desire, AND a Back-up, or Primary and Secondary. I would recommend it be physically close to the school- so you can get to/from the children ASAP. This helps with well-child visits, management of classroom time, etc..
    Third. Breastfeed at the Sitter’s Before you leave at the beginning of the day, and again when you pick them up “Please don’t feed my baby after 3PM as I want her hungry at 5PM” This way you arrive at school ’empty’ and ready to go, and Baby is fed and calm in rush hour traffic on the way home. Then marathon nurse every weekend, to get your supply back up for pumping at school during the week. Give Sitter your chilled milk, every afternoon. Use formulae only as a back-up.
    4. On the first day of classes, pass a paper around the class asking for Study groups to form. Specifically start a Mom’s Study group. This gives you support. Take turns meeting in each other’s home during the week. Bring along a young teen Babysitter- to watch ALL the children in the bedroom at $1/hr/per kid..
    and order Pizza for dinner break- as needed. I also picked my teen up Friday eves, and returned her to her parents Sunday mornings.

    Go to bed early with the kids, you can study early before the day starts, + Sat’s.

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