Advice for Mothers in Medicine: Consider Part Time Practice
I have worked part time since I started working as a family physician in 2001. I was fortunate to have a husband who was on board with this idea, as we planned our family and tried to decide how we wanted to raise our children.
But after grueling work hours in residency, this can be a daunting idea for many female physician starting practice, especially if you have not yet started your family. We are used to 100+ hour work weeks, putting our personal lives second to those of our patients. This all changes once your own darling baby looks up into your eyes, silently saying, "I'm here! Mommy, you don't need THEM, you have ME!". And for the most part this is true, but we are doctors, this is what we do. It's engrained, we will somehow find a way to be there for everyone, to do it all. And this is how it starts.
It's an impossible task, really, but slightly more manageable if you work part time. That is I think the best way to put it. Especially for those of us who have multiple children, our lives grow, our children grow. Eventually something has to give if you want to be the best you can be. I used to think the early days were hardest, juggling maternity leave, pumping breast milk in empty patient rooms on lunch breaks, going to work with an infusion of caffeine with the same adrenaline rush that used to keep me going on a post-call shift. Now that I have school-aged children, I am surprised to discover how much more my daughters need me, and how much more I need time for myself. There would be no hope of any of this if I worked full time.
Part time medicine has many obstacles, however, many of which are perpetuated by the myth that we are not "real doctors" if we don't work 6 days a week. Malpractice coverage is more difficult to navigate, and it's important to be clear from the start how many hours a week you will work and how available you will be for issues when you are off. Some fields of medicine are more "family friendly", but I have still encountered many types of discrimination due to the fact that when I am off, I want to be OFF. This does not mean I am not a doctor when I am not at work, I am just not YOUR doctor. No, I don't want to stop by after the kids are at school to listen to my neighbor's lungs. I want to do my errands and go for a run. This is the type of problem that as women, mothers, and physicians we face. One thing I have learned is that in the work life balance, even with ourselves, mothers in medicine need to set boundaries.
Setting my boundaries to work part time has helped me to be more available for my children, my husband, and as a result I believe that I am a better, more focused doctor when I am at work.