Being a doctor and a mommy sounds like a great combination. However, recent polls suggest that the reality can be much different. It should come as no surprise that physician mothers of young children are more likely to feel torn between home and work than mothers of teenagers or young adults. Nevertheless, most successful physicians who are mothers of older kids did not suddenly get there overnight. They were, at one time, mommies of babies too! Mom MD's of older children often have good advice to share. However, one of the comments that I have heard from physician-mothers of older kids is that it seems to be getting harder to manage the combination of parenthood with being a physician than it used to be. Some of the reasons that maintaining a clinical practice while raising a family is so difficult for moms in recent years is that some things have changed with the times while other things haven't.
Some Things Have Changed...
Licensing and board certification exams
The years in your life when you are studying for certification exams are often the same years that you find yourself sleepless with young babies and sick kids who wake up at all hours of the night. This makes it tough to carve out dedicated study time in between work and caring for your family, much less to concentrate on studying during that time. On top of all this, re-certification is a new requirement that is more time consuming than ever before.
Paperwork and regulatory requirements require a different mindset than patient care and take your focus away from your core duties as a physician. The threat of being accused of improper billing if you forget to hit 'save' on just one of your EMR notes is enough to make you double and triple check everything you do. While that level of compulsiveness is admirable, we are trained as physicians to be compulsive in checking patients' electrolytes and medication doses. This reality of additional administrative/documentation responsibilities divides physician attention at work.
Persistent gender roles
Dads want to be equal partners at home. While modern dads have made great strides in caring for young children, the work environments of modern dads have not caught up with the 2 working parent reality. Most workplaces of today are not any more accommodating of a dad's participation in child care than workplaces of the past. In fact, many would point out that the demands of high powered positions and mid-level jobs provide tenuous job security and are more stringent than ever, making it scary for fathers to request flexible schedules in order to share responsibility for kids in a 2 parent working family.
You can make it work
Regardless of the factors sabotaging mommy doctors, there are numerous ways for physicians to balance work and family. As you evaluate your future goals as a physician, know that you have unlimited options and that nothing you aspire to is out of reach. Leaning In is not only about working as much as you can. It is about making your own work situation work for you.
Women earn less than men in most professions, including medicine. One of the most important tools you need to have in order to be a better negotiator is an understanding of the economic and regulatory factors that come into play in the world of healthcare. This means diving right in and unraveling the complicated financial matters and reimbursement situation at work. It may take months or even years of 'self study' to understand the complexities of where your value comes from. But, once you master the language and the details of the business of medicine, you position yourself as a better negotiator.
Teamwork is about more than just getting the job done. Being a doctor who is trusted by other physicians and other healthcare providers goes beyond strong patient care skills. We all appreciate camaraderie and we are more likely to work well with others who are gracious and understanding in the work setting, rather than threatening or accusatory. It is a subtle, almost subconscious response to avoid those who are judgmental and hostile. Working well with others while maintaining patient safety is a delicate balance that makes the daily work of a physician smoother.
Being a doctor is a great privilege. Women physicians need to take hold of opportunities to become leaders in health care. The physician career can have many stages, including clinical practice, but not excluding other options such as leadership, entrepreneurship and innovation. Understand that a physician career is a continuum of education, clinical practice, leadership, and creativity. You have the power to take your career in any direction you want to- at any time.
Know Your Options
Physicians have so many career options. Knowing your options is a critical part of planning how to set the stage to reach your goals. And it is an important part of being able to choose the right job without 'settling' for a position that is not really fulfilling your professional and personal goals.