siop conference & having a baby in residency

1 May

This weekend I served as a discussant for an 80-minute symposium, “Gendered Experiences in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM): Understanding Drivers of Staying and Leaving,” at the annual conference for the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.  Four research studies were presented that examined the work-family issues experienced by women in STEM and their impact on career success, advancement, and turnover from STEM.  As a woman in STEM, I was tasked with reflecting on the presentations, and discussing how their findings could be translated into meaningful insight and change for women pursuing and striving for success in STEM careers.

The experience was awesome!  Though I definitely did that thing where you get up to the podium and all your thoughts fly out of your head, the notes you’ve scribbled down during the presentations look like a jumbled mess, and you end some sentences with “so, um, yeah,” I appreciated the opportunity to publicly think through some of these results that feel so close to home.  Why are more college women leaving STEM majors (or, in my case, being too fearful to enter them at all).  How does gender play a roll in the confidence of post-docs or the possibilities to be hired for academic jobs?  How does family impact women’s decisions in STEM fields at the higher echelons, for better or worse?

I couldn’t help but think about some fundamental structural aspects of medicine that make being a woman who chooses to have a baby a somewhat awful experience, especially during residency.  As seen recently on the Student Doctor Network:

Resident in a surgical specialty here.  I’m single.  My program has more children than residents.  Yet another resident is pregnant, this time it’s one of my classmates.  The schedule for next year came out the other day…I’m the one who gets screwed.  I have to take an extended period of night float, plus I’m the back-up for if she delivers early…I can already tell I’m going to get stuck covering a couple of weekends for her while she’s on her 6 weeks of free vacation.  I’m sick of covering for people so they can sit on their ass and not work. It’s a small program, so when there’s constantly someone gone, the rest of us get screwed.  I’m never going to get free time off like this, so why am I the one getting shafted again?  Should the folks who had a baby have to bear the brunt of this?

Although this resident’s general attitude and tact are uninviting, she brings up valid points: the structure of residency forces a great deal of additional work on those who don’t have children.  My impression is that it leads to a considerable hostility within these communities that are, to many, supposed to act like a second family.  I wonder if this component affects women’s choices to stay or leave more competitive specialties, not only in medicine but other STEM fields.

Yet this culture is also prevalent (albeit to a lesser extent) outside of the more competitive, demanding specialties.  I am entering pediatrics, arguably one of the most family-friendly specialties.  This year, my husband and I briefly entertained the idea of having a third child while I was a junior resident.  In part based on his own residency training experiences, he kept coming back to this point: “You really don’t want to be the resident for whom other residents have to pick up call in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.”

Of course there were other considerations, first and foremost being the overall well-being and happiness of the family as a whole and as individuals.  Having two daughters has infused our lives with so much joy.  I think we would fall in love with a third child, as much as we did with our two daughters.  Once again, our hearts would expand beyond what we thought possible.  Ari and Evie would be in awe.  The child would be safe, secure, and well loved.

What would be the cost?  Our children have stretched us a little thin, worn our patience, exhausted us, and strained our marriage.  Though I think Ari and Evie would adore a younger sibling, it would be hard on them too, as they would see me so little as a resident, and my time outside of work would mostly be tied to a newborn.  He/She wouldn’t know any different, but it might suck to have mom replaced by a bottle at 4 weeks of age.

Though there are many interns and junior residents who choose to have a baby and balance family and career beautifully, I would have serious concerns about my work suffering.  Interns already sleep little.  I can’t imagine returning to 60- to 80-hour weeks with a 4-week-old at home.  I want to be able to do more than merely function on the job; I want to be able to learn, absorb, and retain as much as possible.  This thought is only with regards to me personally (NOT other interns/residents): I don’t think it would be responsible for the work I’m doing, for the pediatrician I hope to become, to try to juggle a newborn, in addition to the family I already have, as an intern.

As I pack away the 6-12-month baby clothes and we see other families sign on for a third child, it feels a little like inertia drawing us in.  Then there’s the question of capability–I can absolutely handle another kid, bring it on!–not a great reason to have another baby, but one us type-As tend to consider.  But I think our decision is sound.  Not now, hopefully later.  Focus on loving the children we already have, loving each other and ourselves, preserving our sanity, and giving ourselves the opportunity to thrive in our careers.

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Evie fell asleep at a barbecue last weekend.  The toddlers couldn’t decide if she would be more comfortable with her hood on or off.  Ari’s friend then covered Evie’s legs with her jacket.

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