Advice to a mom starting her pre med

It’s advice time at the Tinfoil Hat!

A classmate of mine introduced me to a friend of hers who is a mother of three, is starting her pre reqs to apply to medical school, and is interested in ob/gyn. She connected us via a social networking site, and I wrote down came to mind as far as advice:

I haven’t found the mom thing to be a big obstacle for me in medical school. I learned how to juggle and prioritize my time when I became a mother.

Of course, I only have two kids, and I heard the transition from 2 to 3 can be a little rough. How old are they? Mine are 5 and 10, so they are both potty trained (whew!) and can both understand when mommy needs to study. Not that they won’t interrupt me, but still.

I was a little nervous about doing my post bacc pre reqs as an older student and a mother. I felt a little lonely in those classes, but I was pleasantly surprised when I got to medical school. There were other mothers and other older students there – one of my closest friends is a grandmother, and she found time to work 40 hours a week while in med school (I don’t recommend it, but she did. And she still does on her rotations).

I obviously don’t have the time nor the inclination to party as hard as many of my classmates. Nor do I get my nails done or go to the gym. But, I managed to be incredibly active in extracurricular activities in medical school. I found time to be involved in things that interested me (I was president of the ob/gyn club, for example, and helped run the Vagina Monologues and ran the HIV testing clinic) because I wouldn’t enjoy medical school otherwise. And, I could always give them up if I wasn’t happy with my grades, which I was.

What helped me:

1. Juggle and balance. I would go to school, try to make and eat dinner with my family, and then study in the later evenings when the kids were in bed and on weekends after spending breakfast with the family. That schedule worked for me.

2. During my pre med, I only took part time classes, but I was also working full time. Looking back, I wish I took out loans and did the school thing full time. My life course might have been different, since I got into ob/gyn late in my premed, but still, it was a longer journey than it had to be.

3. Find friends who know what’s going on and use them. (Not use them use them, but you know what I mean.) I am not the best person when it comes to knowing what paperwork is due when, etc. So, I find an organized, friendly classmate who is good at staying on top of this stuff, and remember to ask them for help when I need it. It’s also good to have a phone number or two in case a family issue comes up and you miss something.

I did not do this enough in my pre med, and entered the application process woefully underprepared. Do your research, ask for help if you aren’t informed. I didn’t have time to do all the pre med extra curricular stuff since I was working full time and my kids were younger. I blew it my first application round, because of stupid stuff (I didn’t wear a suit to my first interview. I wore professional clothes, like I would to a business interview. Wrong. Stood out like a sore sore thumb).

4. Don’t overestimate or underestimate the understanding of your classmates, professors or administrators when it comes to your kids. Some people who you think will be understanding won’t, and may treat it like a weakness. Some people who you wouldn’t expect to be an ally at all will surprise you. Don’t be afraid to bring up the kids, but don’t act like you automatically deserve a break or special treatment. If you try as hard as you can to be as good (or even better) than the childless students, you will hopefully get the support you need when you do need an accommodation.

5. Don’t put your education last in your house. I sometimes find myself having standards for myself as a parent that may be too high. For example, I love making home made valentines with my kids, and despise the commercial ones with the cartoon characters on them. Well, this year I had a major research presentation due this past Friday, and was working on it Thursday night when I realized that my younger son had to do the Valentine’s Day exchange Friday since the holiday occurred over the weekend. My husband bought some Batman valentines, I gritted my teeth and got over it.

6. Quality time is OK sometimes, as opposed to quantity time. I ave myself permission to leave the house to study if I had to, when shutting myself in a bedroom wasn’t working. I didn’t do it too much, but one day a week or so, more during board review, with strategic kid bonding time scheduled in, worked for me.

7. Remember, it could be worse. You could be looking for a husband and trying to plan kids during your residency.

8. As for ob/gyn, I wouldn’t obsess about a specialty now, but I am a huge fan of ob/gyn. Any specialty can be challenging, time wise. Neurosurgeries take 6 hours or more a piece. I talked to an ophthalmologist who loves her practice as a mom now, but she had a grueling residency, with three babies at home (she had twins during her residency!)

Hope that was helpful. Please feel free to contact me whenever you need to.


Please feel free to add advice!


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9 responses to “Advice to a mom starting her pre med

  1. MM

    I’m in my 3rd semester of 7 of grad school to become a Speech-Language Pathologist. Now, certainly my training is not of the same caliber as an OB, but I have to say you’ve hit the nail square on the head.

    Sometimes I feel like my life is spiraling out of control and that NOBODY is happy–not me, my kids, my school work, my classmates, my clients, my supervisors–and then I have to remind myself that I am doing the very best I can with a plate that is literally overflowing and spilling onto the floor. I’ve had to let a lot of things go. Stupid little things like how the towels get folded and put away in the closet (I know, but the Type A in my likes it done a certain way), how the dishes get taken care of, or even IF they get taken care of. It has all been an exercise is living in the moment, planning, and organization to a degree I never imagined possible.

    Good luck to this new Student-Mama, I know she is going to do just great. 🙂

    • MomTFH

      Thanks for sharing! I love the analogy of the overfull plate, with some spilling on the floor. I often say “I juggle, and sometimes I drop some of the balls, and they roll all over the floor.”

  2. doctorjen

    I started med school with a 5 yr old ds, then had 2 more children while in med school. Many of your suggestions resonate with my experience. It felt important to me to not have the whole focus of our family be on “mom’s in med school.” I tried to keep our family routines pretty stable, and work my study life around it – but of course you do need to have a plan for fitting in all the study hours you need. I would also eat with my family, put the kids down (an 8 pm bedtime) then study until 10 pm, then I always took a break to sit on the couch and watch 30 min of TV with dh and talk (we always watched whatever sitcom was on after our local news, so Nightcourt, then Mad About You, then Friends – we still remember that nightly sitcom rendevous fondly!) Some nights I studied a bit more after 10:30, some nights I didn’t need to. Other study time I worked in to the school day, and weekend afternoons.

    I always tell people in training to not mark time – don’t keep telling yourself you will make room for the important things in life when you are done training, find ways to work the important things in to your life during your training. Otherwise, you spend 8 or more years of your life doing medical training and miss out on so many opportunities, and in some cases you never get those chances again. I made time to play the piano still in church, and to run 5Ks, and to volunteer (I was the student leader at our local homeless shelter clinic, volunteered as a teen mom mentor, helped develop an elective course in human sexuality)

    Invest in your relationships. Med school and especially residency were hard on our marriage, but we tried hard to stay focused on each other. It’s worth it to invest time in your good friendships, too. Otherwise, you finish your training and find yourself lonely and out of touch.

    Use the skills you’ve learned in your “real life.” In many ways, it was easier for me in med school than many of my typical, normal age, child free classmates. Many of them had never held a job, never nursed a baby, never had to balance a child’s needs with their own, never been ill and without medical insurance. If I struggled on an exam, my baby still loved me best, and this was very comforting and centering. When it came to seeing patients, having lived some real life was extremely helpful and made it easier for me to connect with patients. I was already used to functioning on limited sleep and multitasking under stress – in some ways medical training was so much easier on me than on the typical 24 yr old whose schooling had merely prolonged their adolescence.

    Be straight forward about any particular needs you have, but don’t expect any concessions just because you are a parent. Providing breast milk for my infants when I was away from them was non-negotiable for me, but I volunteered for extra jobs to make up for the little time I needed to pump, and I made sure I was 100% when I was working. I had little children in med school, but many classmates had something else that needed special attention – a dying parent, the need to work for support, a physical illness, a psychological issue, etc. You won’t be the only one who need some kind of accomodation now and then, but on the other hand acting like you are entitled and special doesn’t win many friends.

    Be sure you are doing what you love. The practice of medicine is too much if it’s not what you love. Pick a field you are passionate about, because it’s too damn much work to do something that is your second choice. Family practice, with a focus on maternal child health is my passion, and I couldn’t do this job if it wasn’t.

    • MomTFH

      Thanks, doctorjen, for a thorough and thoughtful comment.

      I totally agree that motherhood helped prepare me for med school, and to make sure to do what you love.

  3. Meet and make use of your medical librarian! It will cut down on time wasted struggling to find what you need for class/a talk/a paper/whatever if you contact your librarian and say, “Hey, I’m looking for resources on X and want to make sure I’m getting everythin, can you help me?” or get a quick training on PubMed, etc. Some libraries have implemented chat reference, so you may be able to get help without coming in (or by email), and many resources will be available electronically through your library without needing to physically go get them.

    • MomTFH

      Great advice! I have had articles sent to me in pdf form from sources available in the stacks, and would have liked to have known more about the online textbooks available earlier than I did. If I went to the medical librarians earlier, I would have gotten that info.

  4. Pingback: Guest post at Mothers in Medicine « Mom’s Tinfoil Hat

  5. Thanks for this. It’s exactly what I needed to read right now. I’m a busy mom of five making my own attempt to go back to school and most of the time I feel like I’m juggling more balls than I can possibly hold onto.

    Right now I’m going part-time to accommodate my children’s schedules. In the Fall, I hope to take more classes. It’s tough though, because I also feel the pressure as time marches on and I eek it out a semester at a time. I turn 40 this year and I feel like the train is getting ready to leave the station. It might have already left!

    I also feel like I often put my needs last and as a result I feel more resentful and frustrated than I should. This is something that I’m working on.

    Thanks for a great post!

    • MomTFH

      You’re welcome. It’s hard. Try not to always put yourself first or always put yourself last. I hope it works out for you. Try to look ahead five years and ten years and come up with a plan that puts you and your kids the closest to where you want to be. Chances are, if you’re happy and fulfilled, they will be, too.

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