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Dr. Mom & Dad
When the juggling act of a child or two meets the juggling act of a medical practice or two, there can be a lot of balls in the air. Here, several Dartmouth Medical School alumni and faculty reflect on the challenges—and the joys—of balancing patients' needs at work with kids' needs at home.
Popular television shows like Scrubs and Grey's Anatomy portray physicians as leading hectic lives filled with answering pagers and socializing. But balancing work and personal life for real physicians and researchers is far more complicated than the picture painted by sitcoms. A doctor's life is certainly hectic. But for physicians who have children, the problem is not sharing the demands of medicine with a desire to party or play. It's finding a day-care arrangement that suits a resident's around-the-clock schedule. It's finding the emotional energy, after meeting patients' needs all day, to meet your kids' needs in the evening. It's finding the will not to fall asleep when you haven't seen your baby in 24 hours but you just got off call.
Those are concerns for male and female physicians alike. And they're intensified in families where both Mom and Dad are doctors. At the same time, working parents outside of medicine—who know how hard it can be to juggle kids with a 9-to-5 schedule—wonder how physicians do it, particularly in light of changes in medical reimbursements that have made for more paperwork, longer days, and shorter appointments with patients. An article last year in U.S. News & World Report highlighted the challenges. Among trends the article pointed to was the fact that fewer medical students are choosing specialties with the most demanding schedules, as well as the fact that in order to balance home life and work life,
young physicians generally tend to work fewer hours than was the norm several decades ago. The article also acknowledged that parents in medicine need good organizational skills and a good sense of humor in order to uphold both their professional and their parental obligations.
To illuminate the highs (and lows) of being a parent and having a career in medicine, an assortment of clinicians and
researchers with Dartmouth ties offered insight into balancing those dual roles. They included recent and not-so-recent DMS alumni, faculty, and retired faculty. Their children range in age from barely 43 days to nearly 43 years. They had their children before, during, and after medical school. Some of the grown children have gone into medicine, and some have not. Their memories of parenting are humorous, poignant, and matter-of-fact. This is what they had to say . . .
Mitchell, a 2006 graduate of DMS and a former member of the Dartmouth Medicine Editorial Board, has written many articles for the magazine—including features on the Patient Partnership elective and on health-policy talks at DHMC by the 2004 presidential candidates. She is now a resident in surgery at Cornell's New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. She conducted the interviews from which the Q&As on the following pages were adapted this past spring, just before her graduation.