When I arrived home last Wednesday morning, I was broken and beaten down from a long night in North Philadelphia sharing hugs, tears, and anecdotes with my patients who were heartbroken with the results of the election. However, I had the most wonderful surprise…a 4-year old with a dream. She said “Mommy! Did the girl win?” I reluctantly had to report that the girl did not in fact, win. She looked at me with those big, beautiful, innocent baby blues, paused for a moment before turning her head to the side and saying “That’s ok! Guess what? I’m going to go to Saturn! Here’s the rocket ship I drew last night while you were working!” I looked down and then realized that she had dressed herself in a “Girls can do anything!” t-shirt and I choked back yet more tears…but this time tears of pride.
As a second year resident, I had the unexpected joy of learning I was pregnant with Johanna just before starting a 12-hour long fast track shift. Needless to say, the surprise overwhelmed me to the point of needing a ride home and calling in my back up! Nowhere in my grand scheme of residency → chief resident → critical care fellowship → take over the world had I envisioned a child! My husband of not even a year was still living and working in Alexandria, VA during the week! The next day, I went to tell my program director the news and as I sat in her office, puffy eyes from crying all night, she simply said, “Wait! Let me guess what it is!” and she wrote something on a post-it note and turned it over on her desk. She then handed it to me and it just said “Congrats!” which opened the floodgates again including the stuttering, sputtering speech of the “Now I’ll never do this, can’t do that and so on.” She simply looked at me and said “Who says?” and asked if she could put me through the resident duplicator machine. Slowly I began to believe her, that I could in fact do it all and do it well.
It was not until about halfway through my pregnancy that I began to question that belief. Perhaps it had something to do with the behind the scenes comments from my colleagues and attendings about drinking in the ED (no eating OR drinking anywhere in our ED!), but after passing out due to second trimester hypotension, I received approval to drink. Maybe it was the fact that another PGY2 resident was paired with me during each shift “just in case.” Honestly, those things did not bother me that much. Well, being paired up bothered me because that was less patients and procedures for me to see and perform!
Ultimately, it was another female physician who upon hearing my desire to do a critical care fellowship laughed and said bluntly “Listen, you can either be a good mom or a good doc. There is no way you can ever succeed at both. You had better choose which one you want to succeed at and accept mediocrity for the other now.” How could someone who was supposed to be an inspiration, a mentor, a guide, an example, tell me that I could not be good at the things I desired? I had come so far, worked so hard, only to be told that MY dreams had to come second. I remember that day like it was yesterday, it was just the moment I needed to push me towards my future.
The hairs on my arms still stand up when I think that I am now sitting on the other side of the desk, as an assistant residency director with two beautiful daughters who will always be encouraged to reach for the stars. They hate that Mommy misses bedtime and camp shows sometimes, but that is because she is at the receiving end of the “red and white ambulances that take the sick people to get help.” I will never stop my drive to not only be a great doc and a great mom, but to make them proud while doing it and to never cease encouraging their dreams.
There are days where I spend a lot of time thinking about that encounter…Was that actually the most important thing anyone could have said to me? That moment drives me every single day to be better and do more. Every time I get discouraged, overwhelmed, or simply start to feel burnt out, that conversation passes into my view and I pick myself up again. It started with pulling trauma patients out of police cars at 27 weeks pregnant and continued with putting patients on ECMO just walking through the ED, and then with a field amputation at 7 weeks pregnant with my second daughter. It continues now with the creation of a hospital wide Women in Medicine advocacy group, running our medical student clerkship, and winning a national CPC competition.
I am so proud that I get to teach the next generation of astonishing young female emergency physicians. The greatest pride I have had as a physician thus far was when several of the female residents asked me to be their mentor. One of them even gave me my own hashtag when she emailed me to ask: #badassdoctormom. How could I not want to live up to THAT?
I was a brand new faculty member when a FEMALE physician director of the ICU told me, “I don’t actually need you on my committee, despite your interest, because you don’t have any power in the hospital. I need physicians who have power.” She then mentioned how she would prefer to have a certain handsome male faculty member on her committee instead. It was like being stabbed in the heart. By my own kind. I queried, “How, exactly, will female physicians ever get power if physicians like you never allow them onto committees?”
As the professional wife of an uncomplaining male physician, I have seen him have to pick up the the load of female docs his whole career life. Their pregnancy leaves, their sick kids, their exhaustion (because raising a family IS still harder for most women). I have also seen many female physicians – particularly those married to wealthy men – reduce hours, commit less, and be unavailable for their patients. One that I know, a psychiatrist, keeps such limited office hours, that her patients have a terrible time getting their refills for medicines. The ONLY female physician I knew who… Read more »
Hi Dawn! We seem to have some things in common! I’m a professional wife as well – to an aerospace engineeer! He also shares with me the struggles of women in the field of engineering. He actually told me this story this past summer of a female engineer (and there aren’t many at his company) who was trying to arrange her schedule so that she can make it to her son’s activities and drop down to four days a week. My uncomplaining husband happens to be her manager as well….so my husband picked up her hours, switched weekly meetings around… Read more »
There is no balance for a doctor. Sorry. If you were a doctor, or lived with one, you would understand. There are only a certain number of state-funded residencies available. And they reflect the number of full-time professionals REQUIRED to work in the profession. The fact that women are working far less than men in medicine is leaving patients without care, and other doctors seriously burned out trying to make up for them. And if you think that is the same as your husband’s career in engineering, you are showing your ignorance. So yes. I make harsh assumptions about part-time… Read more »
Dawn, thank you for your thoughtful reply and assumption that women in medicine who don’t work to your standard (or your uncomplaining husband) are the leading cause of burn out. This is not the leading cause of burn out by any means and there have been many studies that have shown other factors by far contributing towards it such as patient expectations (like yours). So to blame maternity leave or any physician for prioritizing their life to make sure they are emotionally and physically available to their patients actually shows your ignorance. Perhaps you missed the whole point of my… Read more »
Hala Sabry is a physician leader, Ms. Brockman, and if you Google her, you will see that she works 250% of a regular job, is raising an adorable family, while still finding time to be insulted online. I am also a doctor and live with a doctor, FYI. But I would like to change the topic and thank your generation for its contribution. My mother, a stay-at-home housewife, was once invited to a generational conference at Yale and spoke about how her dream career as a chemist was disrupted by the cultural expectation of quitting her job and raising her… Read more »
@Hala- #nufsaid. Thanks for sticking up for PMG
I find this totally wrong. For every woman physician out with maternity leave we have had male physicians out with broken legs, MI’s, CVA’s etc. I consider myself successful as a retired emergency physician after a 22 year career where I rose through the ranks to the second highest position in my medical center AND raised a daughter successfully who just completed her Ob Gyn boards. And I did it without a “professional wife” at home. Women have a different trajectory in their career, some having to cut back or take time off early on but who outlive men, don’t… Read more »
When I say professional wife, I do not mean that I did not work. I ALWAYS worked. I am graduate degreed and at the most senior ranks of my profession. But I always had to have the job, when the kids were young, that allowed me to work from home for the day, or leave, if necessary, to pick up the sick child – or deal with the snow day – or any of the other things that my physician husband could not do – because the patients he needed to see that day would be compromised by our emergency… Read more »
Dawn, it sounds like you’re working from the assumption that it’s soley the woman’s job to respond to family emergencies despite many examples to the contrary, and then extending that assumption into judgement towards female physicians who fulfill your expectation. However, many people chimed in with their experience of sharing family emergencies with their spouses, along with their experiences of covering for their colleagues for their family and non-family emergencies. We all live in a society with the understanding that we sacrifice our time and energy for the good of society (healthy child rearing), and eventually that goodwill gets returned… Read more »
I really hope no female physicians work for your husband and I hope that no female physicians take care of you based off of your above statements.
You are what is wrong with society and place women back in the kitchens and living off/depending on their husbands. I for one am proud to be caring for my son, working as a full time physician and taking care of my other responsibilities. Let me see your husband do any of that and you can speak again
Dawn, There are a few points of flaw in your logic. 1) that your husband has to “pick up the slack” for “uncommitted” female physicians. Females make up a solid 1/3 of the physician work force in the US. Even if every single one worked only part time, your husband is still picking up less “slack” than if there were no female physicians, and therefore 33% fewer physicians in this country. Quite the contrary, his work load would be significantly higher. (However I would like to point out that there are plenty of physician women who do not have children… Read more »
They will be impacted by it… and all the studies show that they will be impacted in a POSITIVE way. – from a full time surgeon & mom of 3
This post speaks to the need for a shift in frame. Individuals sharing the burden of “picking up the load of female docs” is borne from a culture, work place and a society where all workers are even muscles in the production line. If one muscle relaxes another must flex to accomplish the work. As a society and work culture we need to move toward a workplace and body that functions with fluidity, understanding and expectations that accommodate females entering motherhood amidst a career. A workplace building extra hours, faculty and muscles to flex such that no one individual or… Read more »
Very well said Liz! This is reflective of the historical paradigm of all work or all family, which is not applicable a person of any gender.
Also consider that perhaps your husband really loves his job and volunteers for extra clinical or administrative opportunities. Some people prefer careers over a personal life.
Also, if your husband is really spending that much extra time away from home claiming it’s due to work, make sure that he is not having an extramarital affair. A lot of people use that work as an excuse.
Dawn – you have made overly broad generalizations based on limited personal experience. Many of us physician Moms do in fact work full time or more while effectively managing our lives and families. Ironically, I worked 20 hrs extra this week for a male colleague of mine hospitalized with sepsis and pyelonephritis. Yes, someone else had to pick my kids up from school but I don’t think they believe I love them any less because I was helping people. Don’t equate gender and work ethic.
I agree with every single word! I had both my sons in residency. Every day is like walking a tightrope, but I do feel I have the best of both worlds. My sons and husband understand feminism and are proud of what I do and very understanding. Nobody should guilt us that we can’t have it all!
I know many women who combine medicine and family beautifully. It does take a village, but this is true of men too. My husband and I have 2 wonderful daughters. Other than maternity leave, I have been a “full time” emergency physician, Department Chair, professor, and involved in national organizations. Couldn’t do it without my partner husband and family support. This is how men have always done it. We have figured this out and Medicine, motherhood, and society are better for it.
Hello all: I too am a female physician married to another physician. My husband is an ICU doctor and honestly, We have worked hard to work it out for our three boys. It can be done. I work nights and still make it to school functions/concerts/games and conferences. My husband and I said early on that these children were ours to raise and raise alone. Neither one of us has sacrificed ANYTHING in our careers and we couldn’t be happier with the balance that we have created. We aren’t super wealthy as living in the northeast is expensive, but we… Read more »
I too work full time, am the major breadwinner in my family, take care of our finances and the kids’ education and needs. I am a badass doctor mom. It can be exhausting and challenging and being a physician mom are the two most important jobs I can ever imagine holding. The most frustrating thing about my job is not the endless patients or red tape or being exposed to countless infectious diseases but the lack of respect I sometimes encounter from fellow women who believe that I’m either not a good doctor or a good mother to my children… Read more »
Oh and dawn if your position is that we cannot be good mothers and physicians than your husband is not a good father because in your estimation at least, he is a good doctor. So then did you tell him he is failing you and your kids? Probably not right because he is the man and that’s ok. Dads aren’t as important as moms????
Children are made by and should benefit from the guidance of both parents.