Motherhood as a female physician has been an incredible journey so far, overall. It’s gratifying, joyful, and exhausting. It’s a rolicking sort of balance. I love it. But I’ve noticed that working moms get a lot of subversive messages that can make us wonder if we’re doing a good job or not. There’s a lot of talk about overwhelm and mom guilt in the media. It’s true, I work more than 40 hours per week as a surgical subspecialist. And I’ve felt “cheered on” at times as a working mom. But many times, I have felt pressured to be as close to a stay-at-home mom in my free time as I can, and that’s a recipe for burnout. I’m here to tell you that if you choose this life– the life of a doctor mom (or dad), you will need to decide how you feel about it, ideally without the interference of others. You can’t let those societal messages hijack your brainwaves. It’s way too easy to let others’ opinions steal your joy, and you don’t have to let that happen. I’ve decided to reject parts of the societal narrative on mothering in order to create my own definition. And I’m a great freaking mom. Here’s my perspective on how my being a doctor really affects my kid.
As my kid transitioned from diapers to the potty, and words to sentences, I wondered when he’d come to know what I did for work. He’s four, and I thought this revelation might come later, at 5 or 6, as he gained some awareness of different occupations in the world. But it happened earlier, when I introduced the book, “Is Mommy a Doctor or Superhero?” by Dr. Amy Faith Ho, an emergency physician. It has really helped him get him acquainted with the idea of having a doctor mom. This book explains why mommy sometimes has to leave late at night to go to the hospital, something he’d started to notice happening. Sometimes his dad has needed to take over for bedtime, as I’d head out to embolize a bleeding organ. Wes was fascinated by the scenes in the book, and excitedly asked to read it again and again.
It warmed my heart to see relatable scenes in the book, like mom getting patient related calls at the playground. The book illustrates nurses and patients on the other end of the phone. This helps explain the doctor-mom life so well, in simple terms that kids can understand.
One of Wes’ favorite parts of the book is when the little girl can tell if her mom had a good day or a bad day. There have been times I came home and cried after a hard day. Through seeing my emotion, and with the help of our reading, Wes is able to cultivate an understanding of his own emotions, and hopefully, empathy.
Being a physician exposes my kid to a network of amazing people he might not otherwise know. One of them is his pediatrician, who is a friend we get to see on a regular basis. She is part of a special group of kind, brilliant, and understanding moms, all of whom are physicians or married to one. Were it not for my line of work, I might not have assembled such a group of friends. We were brought together by the common lifestyle of the physician/ professional mom.
It’s true that my current position occupies more hours of the week than I’d like right now. I plan to tweak that in the future, especially as Wes needs me more. But for now, I don’t dwell on the hours we are apart. I can see countless benefits of his spending time with the various people in his life. They are his whole village, and he’s learning more from all of them than he could from me alone. We have our own special bond as mother and son, and that bond doesn’t require a certain number of hours to maintain it. Nightly bath time, bedtime, and so many other times are ours. Consistent quality time and an amazing community really affect my kid.
As the breadwinner in the house, my work not only helps others, it helps us too. My kid has a roof over his head, and chicken nuggets in his belly. Because of my toils, my son will grow up with a level of privilege experienced by about 1% of kids in the world. Is that a good thing? I think so. We have a lot to teach him about the responsibility that comes with that privilege, and we will have the resources to put toward the effort as well. This will have a massive effect on my child as he grows and enters the world as an adult.
I was inspired by this tweet from a fellow interventional radiologist, proclaiming his love for tumor ablation, and his pride in sharing his win with his teenage son. I can imagine such an exchange with my little boy in the future.
My little sprite doesn’t yet know what cancer is. But I look forward to the day when I can tell him I killed someone’s cancer. Doctoring is worthwhile work, and seeing us live this way benefits our kids and their development. So if you have kid(s), or would like to someday, don’t let a medical career stop you.
You may not be room mom, or make cupcakes from scratch– or maybe you will, if you choose to prioritize those things. Through your actions, you will model one of the many ways in which to live with purpose and meaning.
Loving your kid(s) doesn’t have to conform to a schedule. You can love them in a thousand of ways, and it’s okay if some of the traditional moves don’t fit into your doctor-mom schedule. There are so many ways to love my son, I know I’ll be doing them for the rest of my life.
So I ask you to consider this: what if it’s not just mom guilt, heaviness, and sacrifice, the way it can be painted sometimes? What if what we do during the day inspires our kids? No matter the path they take, our example will stick with them for years, maybe through their entire lives. My being a doctor really affects my kid, but not in the way some would assume.
When I stop to think about it, what more could I want for him?
The path can be riddled with failures, even if you're doing it right. In this recording, I share some of my gaffes with you.
Very well written and inspiring. Thank you.
Thank you Sheena! Which part hit home for you? I’m so glad.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for this post. I have been struggling with balancing my medical career and being a great mom to my son, and your beautiful thoughts reminded me of the light in our situation. It’s so easy to forget the positive impact our careers can have on our children. I will print out this post and hang it on my office wall!
Oh my gosh, that means the world to me! I’m so glad it feels supportive. What you do in each role just makes you EVEN better at each, but that’s another post altogether!
When I was a young mother in the 90’s we women physicians had the same schedule as the men. It did help that I’m a pediatrician and so taking my time off to go to my kids events was accepted and encouraged as long as I was there for my on call days. Many nights I was out at a c-section as the on call pedi or caring for a sick baby and tired the next morning as I got my own kids off to daycare/school. They understood when I said we had to get ready and not complain and they learned what work ethic was. I must have done something right as my daughter is an APRN (she didn’t want to be on call like me) and my son is a chemist so I didn’t scare them away from the scientific/ medical field. I feel my working benefitted them more than it took things away from them.
You must’ve done something right: you can say that again!!!!
You must be so proud. Thank you for sharing this beautiful example for moms who are still in the earlier stages <3
I am a doctor mom, with kids in their twenties now. I live in an affluent community, and when my younger one was in first grade, nine of the 25 moms in his class were doctors. Only two of us were working.
Now that my kids are grown, I have zero regrets. I was a great role model for both of them. And neither has ever said they resented the demands on my life.
Go for it. It’s tough, but worth it.
Thank you for sharing this perspective, it’s so interesting and a definite slice of doctor mom life… zero regrets. That sounds oh so sweet!!!
This brought me to tears! This guilt not only is societal but sometimes also from within. We do need affirmation sometimes that what we are doing is worth it! Thank you for writing this and touching so many doctor mom’s hearts!
Aw!! I hope they were happy tears, because you are an inspiration. I think we need to abolish mom guilt!! Thank you so much.
As a cardiac anesthesiologist raising 3 kids I was super tired BUT super excited about and engaged by both my jobs. Today my 39, 37, 35 year old daughters scoff at the idea that they were in any way injured by my career. They continually tell me that they grew up to be self reliant, resourceful, and completely confident of their ability to do anytime because of my example. They would not have had it any other way. Alexa says “I had absolutely the best childhood!” And Christine remembers when she was in 6th grade, and a classmate’s father had a severe MI and was rescued by quick action, and asked her dad (a cardiologist) “Is that what you do when you have to go in when you are on call?” They were also thanked regularly by me for allowing me to care for patients. I told them that their sacrifice (no cupcakes) meant that some other kid’s parent would live. They were proud to be part of the commitment.
Wow, that is a powerful way to frame it for kids. I love that you didn’t hide from or deny their sacrifice as kids, but you addressed it head on. Thank you for sharing that!!
One of my favorite moments was when my then 5-year old asked “Mommy, can boys be doctors too, or only girls?” He’s in med school now, so I don’t think he was harmed by my career choice!
I love that innocence. I hope he continues to have awareness as he navigates his classes and rotations! He will be part of the change we need in the future… best of luck to him as he starts Med school!
I tried to be a supermom but I burned out in my late 40’s. My husband, family practice, worked really hard and I felt the burden of parenting fell mostly to me. We had 2 birth daughters, then we started adopting internationally and ended up with 8 kids, 4 with disabilities. I continued to work part time, like 8-3 4 days a week, so I could be with the kids, make supper, do homework, etc. What saved me was I began volunteering with the adoption agency to go to Russia, Mongolia, Haiti, etc. to provide medical care in orphanages and look for adoptable children. The time away was amazing and refreshing.
None of our kids are doctors (one is an ER nurse) but they are all happy and loving and giving.
What was part time work to you is full time to others. Your work is incredible. What a legacy and example you are creating! Just kudos and thank you for reading.
I think it’s really valuable for others to know that trying to be Supermom can be a path to burnout, even for the woman who can do seemingly endless incredible things. We need to do what we think it right for each of us individually as you demonstrate so beautifully here.
Great article! I am a mom of 3 kids, now in college/grad school. I remember sleeping through my oldest son’s afternoon kindergarten bus after a terrible overnight shift in the ER. My neighbor (stay at home mom) pounded on my front door to alert me, with all sorts of judgement…and I cried for days. When my oldest turned 10, I adjusted my work to part-time, but it was still demanding work. I wasn’t at everything, but managed to see most of their sporting events and school programs. My youngest just started college, accepted into an 8 year college/med school program. She wants to follow her in mama’s footsteps. We have had many talks about work/life balance. Couldn’t be more proud of or honored by her career choice.
This is a beautiful example of how it’s not easy, but it’s worth it! We can still have those terrible moments of shame no matter our career choice. There is always someone to judge, and it’s part of mom life and of the human experience isn’t it?
Kudos to you momma!
My 2 children were 3 and 5 when I went to med school. Thankfully my spouse had a flexible schedule. I learned to get over not being the class mom, etc, We had no limit to hours in residency back then. My kids loved their bed time ritual (studying the bone box) when I was taking anatomy, and peering through the microscope during histology. They brought me dinner when I was on call for the weekends during residency. They saw me study, go out for calls at night, and serve others as an FP. We made time for them. One is a sports med doc now, and the other a FBI special agent. Both are giving service to the public. They will say my calling did not harm them. I just retired at 69. I would do it over again!
What an amazing and unique experience you provided! They are so lucky to have a mom like you! And thank you for adding the perspective of the mom in med school and training. I became a mom later in the med pathway and I’m sure your sharing will be valuable to those who read your experience here!
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May thanks for articulating your experience and feelings so beautifully and aptly Dr. Hamilton. You partly solved my long lingering intrigue about career women whom I always admired (and still do) with awe. Keep up the great work as a doctor, and as a loving and caring mom. Hats off to you and all the working MD-moms or otherwise. I am impressed and ever indebted to my wife, a non-career mom of 2 MDs!
You must be very proud of your family! Your results speak for themselves. And thank you for reading and adding your thoughts to the conversation!