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6 Lessons from My Six Years as a Physician Mother

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I brought my first son home from the hospital on Mother’s Day, and remember thinking how appropriate it was that I was starting my real life as a mother on this special day. Of course, at the time, I had no idea how much my definition of ‘mother’ would evolve. I had certainly never considered the unique implications of being a physician mother. Over the years, I’ve learned:

1. There will always be a struggle between my role as a parent and my role as a physician. Sometimes, putting patient care first and putting your children first are mutually exclusive. Nothing can prepare you for this type of mommy guilt, and you will not infrequently question your priorities in life. Cut yourself some slack and focus on the many things you’re doing right.

2. Knowing you’re both a physician and a mother, people assume there is nothing that’s off limits for conversation. They’re usually right. You will become accustomed to hearing the details of the bowel habits of random parents at your kid’s soccer game.

3. Women in medicine are sometimes our own worst enemies. It’s surprising how many women express that their male colleagues are more understanding about maternity leave, breastfeeding and childcare than their female counterparts. In our efforts to prove that we can do everything that a male physician can (and then some), we sometimes make extraordinary efforts to prove that our jobs come first. Unfortunately, this can create a culture where these extraordinary measures become the expectation.

4. It’s always different when it’s your kid. No matter how many times I’ve seen a situation and know that 99% of the time it’s totally okay, it doesn’t stop me from being ‘that mom’ when it’s one of my own children. Even worse, I’m the doctor mom worrying about the zebras.

5. Murphy’s law — It’s inevitable that childcare problems will arise at the worst possible time. Daycare will call to tell you your kid is throwing up just as you’re about to start a procedure, and each of your 10 back up sitters will be out of town or otherwise occupied. It will always snow on a day your group is short staffed. On the bright side, my 6 year old can now read an MRI better than most second year radiology residents.

6. The value of a “village” cannot be understated. It’s not just about having people to lean on to take care of your children when you can’t, although this is critical. It’s also about having a solid support system to provide advice that is pertinent to your life and laugh with you about situations only mothers in medicine really understand. Although many of my best friends are physician mothers, it can be difficult to connect daily with our busy schedules. Whether it be via Facebook, Twitter, or the Women in Medicine digest, social media has exponentially increased our ability to create a tribe. I now rely on several online physician mother Facebook groups for medical expertise, financial questions, quick dinner ideas, book clubs, and even last minute babysitters. I love that I can get an answer about my kid’s rash from a pediatric dermatologist at 2 AM. My Twitter community keeps me up to date on the latest health policy news and medical developments, and allows me to fit CME in while waiting in line at the grocery store.

Although being a physician mother presents challenges, it also brings a wonderful perspective to parenting and doctoring. I’m grateful for this frame of reference, as it allows us to better relate to our patients and their families and also reminds us to not sweat the small stuff.

One more thing — as a caregiver both at home and at work, your own needs often take the back burner. Make sure to treat yourself this Mother’s Day!

Nisha Mehta is a radiologist at W.G. (Bill) Heffner Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Charlotte, NC. She can be reached on Doximity, Twitter @nishamehtamd, and on Facebook.

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