Best of Both Worlds podcast: Having a baby during medical school

Medicine can be a great career for people looking for a good fit between work and life. One of the challenges, though, is the timeline. For many women, the years when you would have babies and young kids correspond with the most intense years of training. The traditional structure of medical education was not necessarily set up for this reality, even as women have become approximately half of new physicians.

In today’s episode of Best of Both Worlds, Sarah interviews Lisa Green, who shares her experience of having her first child during medical school, and how she coped with her subsequent postpartum depression. In this fascinating (and at times emotional) discussion, Lisa talks about what she learned, and what she might do differently in the future.

In the Q&A, Sarah answers a listener who’s wondering what she should explore as she looks for her first physician job. Please give the episode a listen!

10 thoughts on “Best of Both Worlds podcast: Having a baby during medical school

  1. I feel terrible for Lisa! This should never have happened. I had my oldest son in medical school 15 years ago and there was a process for planning maternity leave at my medical school. Medical school can be a great time to start a family if planned appropriately.

  2. Thank you to Lisa for generously sharing her experience! I think similar situations are common in medical training but don’t often receive attention. Lisa, I hope you continue to advocate for parent trainees throughout your career!

    I do think that the medical school had a role to play here and should get backlash. Even if the person supervising students is a retirement age male with no children, it is unacceptable that this person failed to strongly encourage a pregnant medical student to take maternity leave. Yes, self advocacy is important, but training programs need to be held responsible too.

    I’m Canadian and the standard for maternity leave in Canada is 1 year off, but I often see residents taking only 3 or 6 months off (prolonging their training by the duration of their maternity leave; there is no reduction in the total time of training) for logistic reasons and having difficulty with call schedules in pregnancy and with pumping when returning to work early.

    I personally had 2 babies in during my 5 years of residency. I’m happy I did it as I got pregnant easily, had healthy babies that are now thriving kids, have many wonderful memories of the early days, and I’m still married and want more kids lol. That said: although there are plenty of nice supportive people in my program, I still worked myself into an ER visit for hyperemesis and vomiting blood in my first trimester, got accidentally scheduled for call late in my third trimester (and did it) and had 0 accomodations for pumping. The standard should be better than this.

    I think people who didn’t have children in residency are often unaware about how much pressure trainees put on themselves to avoid “asking for favors” due to parenting and to blend in with childless coresidents. This is why trainees need to be strongly encouraged to take maternity leave, to have pumping time, etc. as opposed to relying on self-advocacy.

    To play devil’s advocate, from a societal perspective, it’s better for patients if doctors have children as trainees instead of as attendings. Maternity leave is less expensive, younger women are less likely to have pregnancy complications. In a large residency program, maternity leave barely affects the call schedule (especially in Canada since all time away is made up upon returning from maternity leave) and doesn’t lead to gaps in patient care the way it does when a doctor with an assigned roster of patients goes on maternity leave. I say this as someone who would like to have 1-2 more children as a specialist in a small community- my maternity leave as an attending will directly inconvenience/harm patients in a way it didn’t in residency. We should make having children in training better and set an example for other professions.

    1. Your point at the end is such an interesting one that I hadn’t considered – that having babies earlier is actually cheaper (for the institution) for a variety of reasons. I suspect most people haven’t thought about this perspective.
      I am an allied health professional and during the orientation to my masters program, our program director actually said, “I can’t officially tell you this, but I’m going to tell you this: don’t get pregnant in grad school. Just don’t.” It didn’t matter or really sink in to me at the time (I wasn’t in a place in life that I was concerned about or planning pregnancy) but thinking about that now is appalling! It definitely COULD be done – and maybe even in an easier way than having to take maternity leave from the workforce!

      1. @KGC – yikes, I’m sorry your program director said that. What a terrible mindset. Babies are wonderful, any time!

      2. Wow! As a counterpoint, my undergrad faculty mentor actually told me that grad school is the best time to have kids. It’s fascinating sometimes how one small piece of advice can have such an impression on others.

    2. @Florence I completely agree that Lisa’s medical school should have a standard process for this. It makes me sad that the medical field still hasn’t figured this out. I had children in medical school, residency and fellowship (and in practice) and in every case the program had a process. The advisor at my medical school gave me lots of examples of of what others had done. She had recently had a baby herself and advocated for me to take more time than I thought I would need.

      I also agree that having kids in training has real advantages when it is handled well. It was much more stressful for me to take my last maternity leave as an attending. I volunteer with my alumni association to share my experience with students who are interested in having children in medical school and walk them through what worked for me.

    3. @Florence – thanks for sharing your perspective. There are a great many reasons to welcome women having babies when they want them, and if that’s early and during education/training, that’s wonderful. The world should change to that, rather than expecting women to put it off forever.

  3. WOW this episode. So eye-opening on so many levels. I really appreciated Lisa’s vulnerability.

    1. I agree!
      Also, I felt it said a lot about our society in which children and motherhood have to happen “on the side”.

  4. OMG, I literally gasped out loud and said “oh my God” when she said she went back to class 12 hours after giving birth! I’m floored! I’m just trying to imagine juggling classes and preparing for a huge exam while having a newborn. It’s giving me chills just thinking about it because that phase of parenting is so exhausting as is! And especially those early week of post partum when your body is flooded with hormones! It was all I could do to take care of myself and the baby, especially with my first child as we had feeding/weight gain problems, so I was pumping and going to lactation consultant visits, etc etc. I had no capacity to do anything else during those early weeks! I am glad that she worked with a therapist who gave her permission to state what she needed and could tell her that you should NOT take the exam. I would venture to guess that Lisa is an upholder and it can be hard for upholders to have realistic expectations for themselves and they sometimes need an outside person to say – this is too much!

    She’ll be a wonderful advocate going forward and maybe someday she’ll be a PD like SHU! Sounds like she’d be an amazing one after what she went through. Ay yi yi.

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