Being Both a Physician-Scientist and A Mom

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I am a pathology resident, a research scientist, and a tutor for the USMLE exams. Most importantly, though, I am a mom. I have two kids, and want a few more. For some reason, stirring a huge pot of stew and roasting three chickens at a time to feed a crowd of hungry teenagers and their friends is my idea of a good time. Sure, when I was in college, I liked going out. But now, my idea of a great night out is catching fireflies in the backyard.

I had my kids during my research time. I was 9 months pregnant when I passed my prelim exam, and 3 months postpartum when I defended my PhD. Amazingly, I finished my PhD in 4 years (while the rest of my MD/PhD classmates took 5 or more years) and was first-author on over 5 papers in high impact-factor journals. You might think that I was slaving away in the lab and never saw my kids. In fact, most days I would be in lab for just a few hours in the morning. Certainly, some days were long and I did come in on some weekends to keep experiments running. But the amazing thing about research is that the schedule is entirely up to you, which is a stark contrast to nearly all clinical specialties, where shift work is common. When I came back to the wards for my fourth year, and found myself in the ED working shifts, I found myself wishing I was back in the lab. When I am at work, I like to work, and otherwise, I like to be home with my kids. Sitting around at work with nothing to do drove me crazy.

While it is certainly difficult to balance research responsibilities during residency, I find whatever time I have to further my research investigations. In order to get that “dream job” with the ideal mix of clinical and research responsibilities, you’ve got to prove you can do it. Many residencies have dedicated research time, which many residents look forward to as a “break” from residency training. What many don’t realize, though, is that research takes time. Writing, editing, applying for grants, actually doing the experiments, analyzing the data, putting together the publication… all of this is unlikely to happen over the course of just a year (depending on the complexity of the study, this can even take a decade!). However, even though it’s a slow process, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are in the lab 24-7 continuously writing grants while running experiments (although, for some graduate students I know, this was indeed the case). What it does mean is that you have to start early and start small - take on projects you can deal with, and dedicate a little time each day to moving things along. Most importantly, patience is key (which moms have plenty of).

The flexibility of research also allows me to pursue my other interest - teaching. As a tutor for the USMLE exams with Elite Medical Prep, I work with students from all over the world who are studying for the USMLE exams. Teaching allows me to build my skills at scientific communication, while research and pathology training broaden my perspective on medical and scientific methods. Most importantly, seeing my students succeed in their dreams of pursuing medicine makes me proud, just like when I see my son or daughter learn a new word or skill that I taught them.

As a mom, pursuing the big ideas in the lab allows me flexibility and time to spend with my family. I have control of my schedule, and can prioritize things that need to be done sooner. For all the physicians-in-training out there who are moms or want to be moms, research can be a way to pursue your dreams in medicine while prioritizing the most important thing in your life: your kids.

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