the plan

16 Jan

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.


17 Responses to “the plan”

  1. Deb January 16, 2013 at 3:38 pm #

    Anna, I don’t follow many blogs, but yours is one of my very favorites. I just wanted you to know. I know you are a fantastic mother, and are going to be a fantastic doctor in 2014. 🙂 Sending hugs!!

    • annaojesus January 16, 2013 at 6:56 pm #

      Dear Deb, you are the best. Thank you so much for what you wrote! You should know that I think of you often, and I miss you! I hope you’re doing well, and I appreciate your encouragement so very much! xoxo

  2. eklinman January 16, 2013 at 7:19 pm #

    honestly, that sound pretty well thought-out! And 5 years isn’t that long…

    • phantomdiver January 16, 2013 at 9:21 pm #

      It sounds as if you and John have things well in hand. And who cares if you get all this done a year later than your current classmates? In 30 years, what difference will it make to your career? But it will make a lot of difference to you, Ari, and John.

      Go with your gut! And be glad that you can do it!

      • annaojesus January 16, 2013 at 10:24 pm #

        Thank you! I feel the similarly, for the most part. In the short-term, it’s just a little sad to not be graduating with the folks with whom I’ve come to feel so connected. But I feel good about the decision, overall. Thank you for your encouragement 🙂

    • annaojesus January 16, 2013 at 10:23 pm #

      Says the md/phd 🙂 Love it! In all seriousness, thank you, Eva. You’re one of the smartest persons I know, so coming from you, that means a lot to me!

  3. ahyesplans January 16, 2013 at 10:40 pm #

    I just want to second what someone already said- yours is one of my favorite blogs, so please keep blogging!! It sounds like you made the right decision for you and your family, so enjoy it. Read books! Tons and tons of books! During my medical leave last year, I learned how to cook, and then got into cooking vegan food. Now I have a ton of recipes memorized and can whip up a super low cal (but delicious!) meal in half an hour. It’s probably the best skill I’ve ever learned. (And I don’t just say that about anything.) Have you ever played an instrument? You could get back into that- or polish up a second language.

    So I just came up with a list of things I wish I could do… but I hope some of them are enticing. 🙂 And please keep blogging. I really do love reading your blog, and my resident-boyfriend and I (he’s 7 years ahead of me in training) would like to have kids some day so I feel like you’re leaving an invaluable trail of bread crumbs for me.

    Enjoy your time with Ari and John!!

    • annaojesus January 17, 2013 at 1:03 pm #

      Thank you so much! Your comments means more to me than I can honestly express. I must go back to your book list! I’m in the middle of *The House of God* right now. For the first couple months, I mostly read books on how to keep a child alive and such. But I have to admit, I haven’t read nearly as much as I’d hoped. The first 6-7 weeks in particular were such a hazy blur, I mostly watched trash TV in the middle of the night to keep myself from falling asleep on my dear babe.

      GREAT advice regarding cooking. I’m trying to learn how to cut corners and cook healthy things quickly, especially since I still need to lose 10 pounds to get to my pre-pregnancy weight :/

      As for an instrument, I played the cello and sang (did I mention I was a music major?). I have been singing to Ari tons because–shocker–babies actually respond pretty well to music. Makes me kind of feel like the baby-whisperer! Now I need to relearn all lyrics so I don’t get caught singing, “I’m so frustrated…why are you still crying…” in place of the real lyrics.

      I love all the suggestions and encouragement! You and your BF are going to love this parenting thing! I know it’s trite, but it really is the best thing we’ve done.

      Thank you so, so much!!! Keep on trucking, I promise med school gets better!

      • ahyesplans January 17, 2013 at 2:12 pm #

        I didn’t know you were a music major, that is awesome! No wonder you were playing Ari classical music 🙂

        As for the vegan cooking, the only recipes I use are from Robin Robertson’s Quick-Fix Vegan. They’re all really good (except one quinoa one, but I’m not a huge fan in the first place) and fast to make. If you really get into it, I highly recommend buying a food processor- the majority of my time spent cooking this food was spent on chopping up the veggies!

        The boyfriend lost 15 lbs when I started cooking, and I’ve been able to keep off 20 that I lost over my medical leave. So if it’s only 10 lbs of baby weight that you have left to lose, this would be a nice way to try! No one ever feels guilty about having seconds if it’s just coconut corn chowder or moroccan spiced tabbouleh 🙂

        If you send me your email on my contact form (, I can send you some of my favorite recipes that I keep on my phone (for groceries, in case I forget my list). That way you can try some of them out before you decide to buy the cookbook.

        And, some favorite books off the top of my head (I don’t remember which ones you’ve already read!):

        1. The Seven Types of Ambiguity- Elliott Perlman
        2. 100 Years of Solitude- Gabriel Garcia Marquez (everything by him is amazing)
        3. Island Beneath the Sea- Isabelle Allende
        4. House of the Spirits- Isabelle Allende (everything by her is amazing)
        5. The Poisonwood Bible- Barbara Kingsolver
        6. Pillars of the Earth (series)- Ken Follet
        7. Cloud Atlas- David Mitchell (and everything else by him- they just turned this into a movie! Haven’t seen it yet)

      • annaojesus January 28, 2013 at 10:53 pm #

        Hi there! I’m so sorry for the delay! I’m happy that you think it’s awesome that I was a music major–it was a great four years 🙂

        Thanks so much for the suggestion! I doubt I’ll ever go vegan (since I’m already gluten free and I honestly like meat), but I love new veggie recipes, and I would love your suggestions, especially since they seem to be relatively quick in preparation. Thank you so much for offering to email me some of the recipes–but no pressure, and absolutely at your convenience!

        And I LOVE your book list, thank you so much! Did you also recommend Cutting for Stone? Also, totally agree about Allende! You might really like Edwidge Danticat and Julia Alvarez 🙂

  4. Chris Hergott January 17, 2013 at 1:08 pm #

    Hey Anna,

    That sounds like a great plan! Sounds like you and the little one are doing great! Just for reference, here’s a NEJM article on Chronic Lyme Disease. The long and short of it is that it doesn’t exist.

    Whenever you return around campus, I still owe you a cup of coffee!

    All the best,

    • ericrosoff January 18, 2013 at 3:27 pm #


      • annaojesus January 28, 2013 at 10:56 pm #

        back at ya! miss you!

    • annaojesus January 28, 2013 at 10:31 pm #

      Hi Chris! Thank you so much for the encouragement–very, very much appreciated–and for the link. Funny, I mentioned it to another of my classmates and he said something similar…I have much to learn on neuro! (oh, and I love the email address–clever man!)

      And I owe YOU a coffee…do you mind if I bring my daughter? (You can say no 🙂 )

  5. Kristin March 8, 2013 at 5:32 pm #

    HI Anna –
    I had my first son between 1st and 2nd year of med school (but took 2 years since my husband was finishing his residency), had my second son 3 weeks before med school graduation (and took another year off for him before my internship) and then had my daughter 3 months into my radiology residency. (they are now 19, 14 and 12) You CAN have it all (if you have a loving and patient husband with a decent paying job, find a child care giver – or several – whom you trust and you have enough money and time on the phone to take care of other things in an emergency).

    Even in your darkest days of a sub-I or internship, residency or fellowship your kids will never forget you are their Mom and will welcome you home with open arms – whenever you show up…Med school IS truly a great time to have kids because you have so much flexibility relative to residency, fellowship and even your first job. Do yourself (and other working moms) a favor by having a strong child care support system in place when you do go back so you can concentrate at work and are not distracted by what’s happening at home or trying to sneak out early or come in late – just be the best you can be. Be present for the kids at home but also be present for your patients and fellow physicians so they will respect your work. They all deserve the best of you! Good Luck!!
    Kristin (Fox Chase Cancer Center Radiologist)


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