I was recently arranging a visit with a friend during her study break. She, like many of my classmates, is studying for Step 1 of the boards, the first in a series of tests on the way to becoming a board-certified physician. Most students at Penn choose to take this exam in February/March of their third year of med school, after the completion of the year of core clerkships the December prior. From what I understand, they typically study about 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, for 6 weeks. This exam tests the basic sciences, which I’m sure is interesting to some, but biochem and physiology are not the stuff that gets me up in the morning. That said, I admit I’m starting to feel a bit envious of my classmates, both for the opportunity to study 10 hours a day (I can’t believe I’m writing this!) and for the continuation of their progression toward becoming a doctor. I feel left behind.
I don’t believe I publicly confirmed my plan for the completion of medical school. After many, many conversations, John and I decided that I will be taking a year out of school, though a bit unconventionally. I will be returning for nine weeks April-June to complete my remaining clerkships: neuro (three weeks) and psych (six weeks). John’s grandparents will be staying with us during that time to look after Ari. In the summer, my hope is to prepare for and take Step 1, and hopefully take the Clinical Skills portion of Step 2 as well. I’m currently looking for daycare options for that time.
In the fall, I will be a full-time graduate student of bioethics. The MD/MBE is normally completed within the four years of medical education at Penn. At this time, I’ve completed a little over half of the requirements. We thought that, though it’s feasible for MD students to get this Masters and still finish in four years, and it’s feasible to have a child and still finish in four years, an MD + Masters + child seemed a bit overkill. I will resume my MD pursuit in January 2014.
Truthfully, even if I wasn’t working on a Masters, I think I would want to take a year out. I feel like it’s a very rare privilege to be able to take this time to be with my daughter–to witness all her small discoveries (the look of wonder and the muttering “guh! uh!” as her eyes fix on a lamp…never gets old)–that I might never have again, with any of my children, if we’re lucky enough to have more. From what I understand, it’s so much easier to take time off in school than it will be in residency and beyond. And, although being six years behind one’s husband in professional training does have it’s downsides, we feel so lucky that one of us is making an income, so it actually makes some short-term financial sense for me to stay home to avoid some childcare expenses while not paying tuition (in the long-term, it’s probably better for us that I get out of school as quickly as possible and start making an income but, hey, we’re living in the now!).
I spoke with one of our pediatrics course directors a few weeks prior to Ari’s birth. She had taken a year off after the birth of one of her children. She said that it was a great year, but that it also helped confirm that she was a happier (perhaps better) mother if she was not stay-at-home. I imagine my first day back in the hospital will be painful. I’m not ready for it now, and I doubt I’ll be ready come April. But I miss school, I miss it very much. There are moments when I’m holding Ari, and she’s so sweetly clinging to the folds of my clothing, breathing rapidly on my neck, and I can’t help but think, “Why the hell did I go to medical school?” Then I find myself getting jealous when my friends talk about studying for the boards, or I can’t wait to run home to read up on chronic lyme disease after I learn that a mom at my yoga babies class suffers from it, and I know that I will be a better mom if I have a career that I love outside the home.
The plan is for me to graduate from medical school in May 2015, hopefully figuring out how to strike a good balance between motherhood and medicine and other good stuff in the mean time. Suggestions welcome.