Being a mom in med school: How I make it work

As a second-year medical student and mother of two children under 3 years old, I wanted to share what has helped me on this journey.


Every year the number of women in medical school increases. Whether undergraduate or nontraditional, the vast majority must (unlike most of their male counterparts) consider their fertility window. Women often feel pressure to plan their schooling, career and family in tandem. If you choose the difficult, yet rewarding path of becoming a mother in medical school, you will constantly ask yourself if you are doing enough.

It is the unfortunate reality for many women in medical training that the infrastructure is not set up to allow you to do enough for either your schoolwork or your families. Burdened by antiquated gender norms, many mothers shy away. This was almost my fate—instead, I chose the challenge and started the motherhood in medicine journey two years ago, along with my husband, Peter, my 2.5-year-old, Blaise, and 1.5-year-old, Nora.

When other mothers ask me how it works, I always say “it doesn’t really, but you can make it work.”

Making the journey manageable

“Making it work” is not simply handed to you—in my experience, you have to seek out support and understand that your life and routines will be different than those of your childfree peers.

A recent study published in The Permanente Journal showed that out of 605 premed and medical student respondents, only around 5 percent currently have children, while 78 percent plan to have children in the future. At most, you are likely one of a few other women who are fellow medical students at your institution and also have children. So, you might be without camaraderie. You may be asking, ‘What am I seeking out to make my journey a little more manageable, and what does my idea of success look like?’

Below I delve into what I have found the most helpful throughout my experience.

Seek out a network and lean in: The go-it-alone mentality will not serve you during your medical training (this is true for everyone but particularly for mothers). Not everyone you meet will understand your journey, process or goals. The ones who seek understanding and offer support are the people you must hold on to.

This is not always the most traditional bunch.

In my experience, there are no “ladies who lunch” or scheduled play dates in this equation. It’s more like ladies who caffeinate and study together while our kids play with a whiteboard or stethoscope.

Childcare in school has many forms. Hopefully, you have full-time childcare somewhere, but some days it might be a classmate giving your child crackers so you can take notes because daycare pickup was at 4 p.m. and class ends at 5 p.m. My network often ranges between daycare, other parents in medical school and my spouse.

Build a routine: Not every single day will look the same, but most weeks should mirror one another. Medical students, much like children, love routines and having their expectations met. School schedules and extracurricular appointments booked in advance are not only the best way to prevent an irrational tantrum from a 2-year-old, but also the best way to ensure success for yourself.

I don’t get to study eight or more hours every single day. Some days I get 14 hours and others I only get four. Knowing which days are heavy and which are light helps alleviate anxiety around not doing enough and helps me plan ahead. Having this knowledge will also help you communicate with your network or support system regarding which days you are available and which days you will have to buckle down.

Build reasonable expectations: I have two toddlers under 3 years old, and since I don’t get to study as much as my peers, my grades reflect that. There are most certainly those who can do it all, but I cannot, and I have found it crucial to my mental health to set expectations for school that will allow me to be happy and fulfilled both at school and at home. My expectation for myself is that I make the best use of my time during the day while I am at school and my children are at daycare so I can be present for my family between the hours of 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.

If my expectation of myself was to be at the top of the class no matter what the cost on my mental health or strain on my family, then I would be anxious and disappointed nearly every day. I found out quickly what I am capable of, and likely you will too. Assess your capabilities, talk with your spouse and kids and decide where the correct balance for you and your family lies.

Seek self-assessment: Check in with yourself. Is your routine working for you at this moment? Are the connections you have built encouraging you or tearing you down? Are your expectations too high or too low? Only you know the answers to these questions. Ask them, and ask them often.

Adjust accordingly. Give yourself and others grace in this time. So much grace. People are not perfect. You are a person and so is everyone around you. Do not set expectations and assessments based on perfectionism.

Seek opportunities to take pride in your work: You are doing an amazing job, and you are worthy of praise, especially from yourself. Mothers in general can be very self-critical. Find one thing you love about yourself, write it on a sticky note and put it on your bathroom mirror. Then when you feel like you failed or didn’t meet your expectations that day, you have one positive message to remind yourself of how awesome you are! Role strain will happen, and it will probably happen more frequently than is comfortable, but take heart in knowing you are showing up today.

No matter what point you find yourself at in this journey, the ideal infrastructure for mom-ing and medicine probably does not exist. But that does not mean you have to delay building your family. You can have your half-eaten chicken nugget and eat it too!

Stay excellent and do great things.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

Related reading:

Childcare during residency: Balancing two full-time jobs

3 things I wish I knew about being a mother in medical training

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