Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Having a family during residency: my perspective

When I was a resident, my program director mentioned to us that residents should have family during residency only if you have a lot of resources (i.e. family nearby) or money (i.e for nanny). The bottom line is that it's never easy to start to a family, especially for people in medicine with prolonged training.  I don't know what the right answer is but this was my experience having had a child during first year of radiology residency. Based on this experience, maybe you can make your own judgment of when the best time is for you given your circumstances.

  • Having a child during residency was incredibly difficult because unlike anything I've had to do in my life, there is a huge component of wildcard in  raising a child. They can get sick and then  you have to be spontaneous and find a solution. It also means that you might be up in the middle of the night soothing child because the child is  inconsolable from being ill.  My mom has told me multiple times before how  I cannot understand the pains  parents suffer except if you are a parent yourself.  I've reached new heights of desperation when my daughter was sick and was crying in the middle of the night.  I think this quality of parents  is the reason why I've read that hiring parents as employees is very beneficial for the company because of the parents expanded  emotional  capacity.  
  • When you're a resident, I found out that people are very forgiving about me having to leave service because my daughter was vomiting at the daycare.   I've had to take time off of work to go to a dental or doctor's appointment before and felt very ashamed about leaving service even for a few hours (that’s just me).  But when I had to leave service because my daughter was sick, I didn't really give a damn what people thought.  The need to care for a child really changed my perspective and priorities in life.  After becoming a parent,  I realize  we all have an ability to transcend people's thoughts and opinions.   I've been very fortunate in my training to be surrounded by people who are parents themselves and were very understanding. However, I have had heard of people who would be callous towards parents and their need for certain flexibility.   I think this attitude is only a reflection  these individuals limited capacity and understanding. One of the arguments that Sheryl Sandberg makes in her book Lean In  about how to change status quo and policies is to have  affected individuals in position of power  because that capacity will bring perspective and make change at  the institutional level.  I think certainly having parents in position of authority and being in the C-suite  can help with institutional level change and attitudes.
  • Cost: having a child is incredibly expensive; I felt like I was hemorrhaging money. Daycare was $1850 per month. I had a babysitter for drop off and pick up and it was $15/hour. During weekend and overnight calls, I had someone to babysit.
  • Sleep deprivation: I read that one night of poor sleep cost 4 days of delayed brain function. As a parent, there will be many nights of sleep deprivation (especially when the baby is young). I remember yawning all the time during work and feeling tired. It's tough.
  • Chronic mommy syndrome: I don't know if this a real thing but I felt constantly guilty for not being available for my daughter, to play with her, and be with her. I suspect every working mom will feel this way, especially with their first born. But it was a nagging feeling that I've finally got a hold off now that I'm done with training and have time to be with my daughter.
  • Education: Someone once told me I could do everything I want but only one at a time. It's true for family needs as well. Trying to balance family needs (especially an infant) and being an outstanding resident are two tough jobs and usually, one of the jobs will gave (usually being an outstanding resident). I've seen and personally experienced stellar resident performance later suffer academically after having a child.  I suffered academically after having a child.  After this happened,  it became very clear to me that I couldn't perform at the level that I wanted and be a mother at the same time.  Thus, I offloaded the child-rearing responsibilities to my mom and my family and I was able to regain the time, the focus and concentration I needed to re-establish my academic standing,  to do well on my Radiology boards and finish residency strong.  For radiology residents,  I think the better time starting family is after boards (end of third year) for women except if your spouse can be the full time care provider or you have family nearby.  

Being a parent and a resident can be tough. I have certainly learned a lot and you're a completely different person after having  a child.  Like I mentioned,  your priorities change and  your reaction to what life throws  you change.   Before I became a mother, I would feel  anxious or scared or  terrible  about relatively minor things, but after becoming a parent, these things are less meaningful.  I think this ability to have Grace Under Fire is one asset that helped me do well in my residency  because this heighten your emotional capacity (EQ).  In everyday setting, increased EQ can be very important for your success as you work with other physicians, trainees and staff members. Thus, you're able to focus and concentrate on the more important aspects of life and be kinder to people and change in general.  

Being a parent is never easy, but if I were to do it again and given my situation, I would wait until I finished training. I'm not here to tell you when you should have a baby because everyone is in different circumstances. As someone once told me, we can do everything but we can only it only one at a time. Subjecting yourself to the responsibilities as a parent and resident can be overwhelming. Irrespective of when you decide to have a child, if you have the resources to offset some of the responsibility so you can get the appropriate time  and concentration to do well during residency, then that's ideal.

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