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Starting a Family in Medical School

Medical school is a tough and trying time. Many students have trouble adapting to the long working hours and massive amounts of information they need to absorb. Having children and starting a family during your medical school years can compound these issues. Some might even advise waiting until after medical school to have children since it is hard enough to cope with the demanding pace of coursework without having any external worries or responsibilities. However with the increasing length of postgraduate training and the number of non-traditional medical students on the rise, many students are finding that there is no perfect time for them to have a child. Rather than wait, they chose to have children during their medical school training. For these students the juggling act can sometimes be a challenge, but the following tips can help.

Plan ahead. This should be your mantra through all stages of your training whether you are a pre-med, medical student, or resident. When selecting medical schools, if having children is even remotely on your radar, you should bear in mind that not all schools are family friendly. Look at the geographic area of the school you are considering. Is this a good place to raise a child? Is there childcare in the area and does the school subsidize it? Does the school have a maternity leave policy? Will they offer you housing when your family grows? Is there a place to pump breast milk on campus if you would like to? If you can, try and meet students who have children to find out how the administration treated them when they announced they were having children. Some schools even have special programs to facilitate maternity leave. Others might require you to take a year off. Still others will expect you back to work a few days after giving birth. It is best for you to do your homework on each school and know about these factors in advance so you can select a school that will best be able to fit your needs.

Once you know you are having a child, speak up. If you will need to go on maternity or paternity leave you should not wait until the middle of your surgery rotation to inform the clerkship director about this. Instead, plan ahead and schedule your rotations to accommodate your leave. Having a baby is not an unexpected event – you have nine months to prepare and your school can reasonably expect you to inform them a few months beforehand so that they are not left short handed on a clerkship.
Once your child is born, scheduling and staying focused will keep you sane. Prioritize your tasks and plan your days as best as you can. There will always be last minute emergencies but having a schedule and sticking to it helps ensure you accomplish your goals and remain on track even when work accumulates. On quiet days plan ahead by prepping meals and activities for busy days.

Consider your childcare options carefully. If you and your spouse both work you will need to arrange childcare. Medical students do not work typical hours. Therefore unless your spouse can drop off and pick up your child reliably everyday a daycare center with rigid hours may not work for you during your third year although it can be a good option for the first two years if your school is primarily lecture based. Nannies can be very expensive and not easy to locate in some areas. Both options leave you vulnerable to emergencies. If your nanny cancels or your child cannot attend daycare because he is sick you will be in a bind. Many students find having family members close by can ease this burden. It is also helpful to network with other parents in the area to get a feel for the childcare options and how they handle this challenge. They also provide a support group that understands what you are going through. Whatever route you select, you must be absolutely comfortable in the knowledge your child is getting proper care. It is not worth scrimping and selecting a cheaper option that you are uncomfortable with. If you are even slightly worried that your child is being neglected you will not be able to focus and get your work done, nor is it worth the risk.

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Have all your financial ducks in a row. Start saving your money and living frugally as soon as you can, even before having a child becomes a realistic part of your future. You will thank yourself later. Once you are considering having a child start planning and figuring out how you will afford the serious costs that come with raising a child. If you will need to take out more loans you should consult with your school financial aid office about this before having a child. Make sure you understand all of your loan options and are comfortable that you will be able to survive with the increased debt you will take on.
Do not assume your parents will help you unless they have explicitly said so. It can be very difficult to depend on them as a source of income or childcare only to discover they have no intention of helping out in this way. Remember that this is not their obligation and accept whatever they offer gratefully.

Also investigate possible sources of health insurance for your child, whether through your spouses employment, the medical school, or a government sponsored program. Having all this information ahead of time will decrease the stress of pregnancy and conception. The last thing you want is to go through a difficult labor and delivery only to discover you have forgotten to set up health insurance for your child and must now scramble to find an insurance provider. Remember that you will have hospital and doctors fees to pay. Saving in advance and including this in your budget can make it easier to handle the sudden influx of expenses that comes with a new child.

Do not neglect your spouse. A supportive spouse is essential for a medical student with children. Before having children discuss how having children will affect your relationship and how much of the burden of childcare and home maintenance may fall on your spouse during busy times. Having this discussion helps alleviate resentment. Try to verbally express your appreciation for all that your spouse does and remember that your spouse is not a mind reader. If you do not express your needs they will not magically be able to meet them.

Keep a sense of humor. Sometimes it helps to be able to laugh about things that frustrate you. A crying infant that does not sleep through the night is actually great training for working while sleep deprived. This is a great skill to have when taking 24 hour call. Plus you should ace your pediatrics rotation after all this one-on-one experience you are getting.

Don’t be a doctor when it comes to your child. When you visit the pediatrician with your child you may feel silly asking questions a health care professional should be able to answer. Don’t let that stop you from asking those questions. Feel free to behave like a regular parent that is not in the health care field. When it comes to your child you should ask all the questions you want and seek all the reassurance you need. Don’t let medical school take over your parenting style. Enjoy your time with your munchkin just like a ‘normal’ person would.

Reach out for help. It is next to impossible to manage medical school and child rearing all by yourself. Do not hesitate to reach out to friends and family for assistance. Sometimes having a friend babysit for a night so that you can sleep or go out can make all the difference between being a calm, happy parent and losing your sanity. If you can afford to hire help to do your laundry and some basic household chores jump at the chance. Although these tasks seem like small errands now they can really bog you down when you have many things to accomplish. They also cut into your precious time with your cutie!

Embrace Imperfection. Your floors will not be spotless. Your child will not be all giggles all the time. You will occasionally feel like you are drowning. Recognize that this is all normal. Babies cry as a natural part of their development. Parents and medical students are busy people without a lot of time to be mopping and making beds. Cooking suddenly seems exhausting after a day of studying and chasing around a toddler. Accepting and welcoming the fact that life is not perfect will ease a lot of your stress and your workload.

In the end, it is all about setting your priorities. Think about what you value most, whether it is time to study, breastfeeding, making your own baby food, having a clean kitchen, being at every pediatrician appointment or eating dinner with your spouse every night. Be prepared to sacrifice other things for the sake of the top priorities on your list.

Remember that as long as your child is happy and healthy the rest doesn’t matter.

Having a child is a wonderful thing. Every time you feel stressed, financially strapped or overworked remember how lucky you are! You probably have many classmates that are secretly jealous of you. After all, having a child during residency and fellowship is not easy and waiting until you are starting your own practice can also be stressful. If you are organized, plan ahead, and prepare yourself to take all the little bumps in stride you and your growing family can survive medical school happily.

This article was written by Miriam of Admit2Med, a personalized Medical School Admissions Consulting boutique. For more information visit www.admit2med.com or email [email protected].

29 thoughts on “Starting a Family in Medical School”

  1. Rose, this is supposed to be an article for people who plan to have children during medical school. Take a chill pill.

  2. Since when does “family” only mean kids? I HAVE started a family. It just happens to not include kids on a daily basis, very deliberately. The lack of children does not make my family any less of a family than yours.

  3. this article provides a lot of food for thought…and then we have ppl like Rose who want to completely ignore the main message for the sake of nitpicking, and also randomly redefine social norms. If you don’t like a word as it is used within YOUR OWN society, find and/or use another….sheesh.

  4. Good article with some sound advice for those with kids in med school. I’m a first year med student with a 1.5 year old son, and I agree with everything the article says in terms of succeeding in med school while keeping yourself, spouse, and children sane and happy, which I’m happy to say IS possible! Rose, don’t get so hung up on the title. This article is written for people with kids, because for better or for worse having kids makes med school, and life in general, A LOT different than it is without kids. To say otherwise is absurd.

  5. a man and a woman have sex. baby(ies) are born. if they all sit and eat together at a table for at least one meal per day with the t.v. off its a family. me, my cat, and my girl friend is not a family.

  6. I do know that no one was trying to offend me. And yeah, I guess I was overly offended.
    … but I do still think it’s unnecessarily stigmatizing and heteronormative to equate “family” with “kids”. If it’s supposed to be about having kids, then have the title reflect that. There’s nothing wrong with “Having Kids in Medical School”, which is frankly a lot clearer. The title ends up saying that “family = kids”, which then carries a whole host of other associations like “gay folk can never have family” and “people who don’t have kids are lacking something essential” and “infertile people can never have a true family”. And those things are just nasty and unpleasant and I really think we ought not to be reinforcing them.
    I’ll also point out that this article unnecessarily excludes people who adopt. A simple phrase or two would’ve helped with the inclusivity of this article.
    I never meant to say that having kids during medical school isn’t difficult or different. I do have some inkling of what it’s like to have kids, and I have high respect for people who manage to juggle that full-time. But I believe it’s not the presence of children which make a family, and I think it’s unfair to imply it.

      • Wiki: “In human context, a family (from Latin: familia) is a group of people affiliated by consanguinity, affinity, or co-residence.”
        In other words…. anyone you’re related to, anyone you chose to be family, and/or anyone you live with.

    • What would you know? Have you adopted a child? My spouse and I have and I am not the least bit offended by the wording. I know what the writer is intending to convey. I don’t use a breast pump bc I don’t have breasts…should this article offend me?
      Only a moron takes offense when none is intended. Stop looking at things to get pissed off about in life and smile a little.

      • Actually, we have essentially adopted two. We’re “god” mothers to two kids, and we have them roughly a week a month. If anything happens to their bio parents, the kids come to us. So yeah, I have an inkling of what it’s like to be a parent. With that knowledge, I argue that it isn’t the presence or absence of kids that make family.

    • “unnecessarily stigmatizing and heteronormative”
      Get a life. Stop trying to be offended. Because there’s no other way to interpret your reaction.

      • Equating godchildren to having your own dependents is laughable at best. Your arguments really aren’t founded in logic. You sound like someone who has to have the last word, for attention’s sake.

  7. “Get your financial ducks in a row…get the child healthcare…possibly government sponsored”.
    So, go on welfare? Oh yeah. Great advice. If you have to plan to go on welfare, before the kid is born, as the author suggested, then you are an irresponsible leach who isn’t financially ready to have a family.
    This mindset Also leads to failure and leaching in other areas (oh, help me with my homework, my kid is sick. Or, I need extra days off during residency for my kid!). We have all seen the abusers of the system. These are the worst kind of “colleagues” to have.
    They won’t be hired by top private practice gigs.

    • Oh give me a break man. You don’t think a med student on welfare will eventually give back to society financially and socially as a physician? I can tell you that being in med school with kids is not easy financially, since med students can only borrow up to the school’s Cost of Attendance (COA), which is calculated for single students without kids. Some schools do not offer financially feasible health insurance options for families of students (at my school the entire remainder of my COA after tuition would have gone to health insurance, which would have left no money for food,rent, etc.) Have the spouse work you say, but that only works financially if they make a certain amount of money and are fortunate enough to have a job with benefits. Don’t forget about daycare expenses too, since the spouse is now working. My spouse works and gets benefits while I’m in med school, and we barely make ends meet while living very frugally. Almost all her salary goes to daycare expenses, so she’s pretty much working exclusively for health insurance for her and our son (I’m covered by my school). We’re fortunate in that she even has a job with benefits. Without a spouse working an adequate paying job with benefits, or a reasonably priced family health insurance policy from the school, and without Medicaid, how can a med student’s kids be insured? They can’t, and the med student would have to quit school and not fulfill the calling of being a physician and possibly lose the ability provide the things that we all want for our families. For many med students with kids, there is simply no possibility of making it through medical school financially without the help of welfare. Get off your high horse!

    • I agree that one should probably wait to have a child until they are financially able, but what medical student has the means for that? Only the kind with a spouse that has great family benefits. You don’t have children, do you? I hope you can walk in someone else’s shoes one day and experience the joys of being a parent. You’d make every exception in the world to make sure you can be there for your sick child. Although I think you’re right about proper planning and that there are many who take advantage of the welfare system, medical students do not typically fall into that category and your self-righteous attitude is totally uncalled for. I’d rather my tax dollars go to a struggling med student with a family than most anybody else.

  8. You needn’t pick broader definitions of “family.” Having children is biological and natural. (It’s also beautiful.) It shouldn’t need to be defended at all that having children can be called having a family. The article wasn’t being exclusive and shouldn’t offend anyone. Anyone in the minority should not read this and be offended.

  9. Arduous study and an immense amount of expertise acquired at school are undoubtedly a large burden on med students. If they have babies, difficulty will certainly be doubled….
    Therefore, it seems impossible to reach a concensus on what is the most ideal point of time for med students’ pregnancy and delivery. However, the bulk of my friends have the same opinion that med practitioners can get married while studying but should defer their parenthood until they finalize residency programs. The reason why this idea has been widely supported is related to desirable salaries the med practitioner will be paid when working as an official at the hospital. The money they earn can be utilized to pay for their loans, afford living cost, and have effective preparation for their babies’development. Every member of SDN-what do you think about the aforementioned piece of advice?…

  10. Has anyone ever tried adopting whilst attending medical school? What if your spouse is older has a career that allows them to take care of the baby? Are you even allowed to adopt at this time in your career?

    • My knowledge isn’t comprehensive, but my wife is about to complete her degree in social work and we are planning to foster and adopt while I am in med school. The rules vary based on your state but simply being a med student would not bar you from adopting. Things like income and how long you’ve been married could hold you back though, so do your research. Also, private agencies vs your state Department of Family and Protective Services (or whatever it might be called there) have different requirements, costs, and processes. If your spouse is older and has a career that allows them to help out, it would definitely make taking on a child easier. If you decide it’s right for you, I hope you have the best of luck finding a child to give a forever home.

  11. I’m in my last year of undergrad and my wife and I have a 7 month old son. Our son has Medicaid for the time being (which we taxes for, and will more than repay in my career as a physican, btw) and the military is our solution to the financial worries. If I can think of a case in which government assistance is justifiable for the care of a child, its when taxpaying americans are furthering their education to give back to society and take care of the sick. This article was great advice for someone in my position. Thanks!

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