When’s the best time for a physician to start a family? This is a question that comes up for many at various stages in their training, and rightfully so. Despite this, it’s perhaps not shockingly one of the ones that trainees find most awkward to ask, and also one of the ones that’s least addressed in a formal setting during training. Let’s put aside for a minute how much of a statement this is about the culture of our medical training.
As you’ve probably guessed, there is no “ideal” time. Having children, whether you are the father or the mother, a physician or not, or in training or in your forever job, is hard. In a world full of stressors, deadlines, exams, applications, practice building, and promotions, finding a window where the universe magically pauses to allow you to focus on only your baby is nearly impossible. And even if you were to find it, there’s no guarantee that you (or your spouse) will be able to get pregnant during the timeframe necessary to have the baby within that window.
Honestly, no one can tell you when the best time is for you, because the factors that go into the decision are so personal. You have to consider what your family and spousal support is during the process, what your professional responsibilities are during any given time, your financial situation, and your age, amongst other factors.
All of that said, from my own experience, I’ve found the following things to be true for most:
- Just because you’re an attending doesn’t make it easier. I had my first baby during residency and my second during my first year as an attending - picking a time during residency was far simpler. When you’re a resident, you’re covered under federal rules for time off and pay, rotations can be rearranged, and in (most) programs, and being one person down doesn’t majorly affect the other residents. As an attending, depending on how big your group is, what your responsibilities to your patient base are, and whether you’re paid for your time off, things can get complicated fast.
- There will always be people who will be critical or upset. Recognize that your family will last much longer than the role of these other people in your life, and ultimately, you have to do what’s right for you, just as they would. In my case, I had children earlier than most in my program and found myself constantly feeling guilty or apologizing for having to make call accommodations or leaving to pump. I realize now that it was silly to feel that way. For each of my colleagues, there has been or will likely come a time where they or their spouses will find themselves in a similar position. Try your best to minimize the burden of your needs on other people, and make it a point to help them when you can. In a cosmic sense, it’ll all even out eventually.
- Having a family will often make you more efficient and grounded. I quickly learned to study more productively and procrastinate less so that I could maximize time with my son. As an added bonus, he kept everything in perspective and kept me happy during an otherwise stressful time with boards, fellowship applications, etc.
You sacrifice a lot for medicine, but having a family shouldn’t be one of those things. Regardless of how crazy it seems to add on yet another responsibility to your already stressful lives, if you’re ready to take that step, you’ll find a way to make it work.
Nisha Mehta, M.D.
Dr. Nisha Mehta is a physician and writer with interests in physician wellness, medical education, and health policy. Follow her on Twitter @nishamehtamd or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/nishamehtamd.