37: On Motherhood and Doctoring

by Jen Barna MD | Life Journey, Podcast, Resilience, Work Life Balance

“You’ve got this. You can take your own time and figure it out the way I did, which was over a course of trial and error. There is an easier way and looking back now, I think if I had found someone like you, Jill, that could’ve helped me. I could have made strides years ahead. So just working through time management, working through issues with the (mom) guilt and just different aspects of trying to combine motherhood with being a practicing physician, full-time or part-time. I think the one thing I would’ve done differently is get some coaching!” -Dr. Jen Barna

Happy Mother’s Day from the DocWorking family! In this episode, Coach Jill Farmer and DocWorking founder, Dr. Jen Barna discuss the trials and successes of being a mother and a practicing physician. They discuss the hardships like mommy guilt, the stress of balancing work with family, and institutional medicine’s rigidity when it comes to being flexible with mothers. They also discuss ways to work around the hardships. Jill points out ways to be creative with scheduling and Jen reminds us that children are resilient and can really benefit from the example of having a working mother. And there is so much more! Tune in and realize you are not alone and there are really beneficial resources out there, like

Get One-on-One Coaching with Master-Certified Coach Jill Farmer

Get One-on-One Coaching with Coach Gabriella Dennery MD

Resources from the episode: 

Episode 7: Is Medicine A Good Career For Moms? Interview with Dr. Miriam Michael

Why Women Leave Medicine”  by Amy Paturel, MS, MPH, special to AAMCNews

Excerpts from the show: 

“Tell us a little about your journey as a physician and your journey of motherhood and integrating motherhood into your career as a physician for people who don’t know your story.” -Master Certified Coach, Jill Farmer

“My story really began as a medical student. I was a little bit older as a medical student, I had deferred medical school for a year while my husband finished law school. I was in graduate school when I decided to go to medical school, so I was 26 starting medical school. I had both of my kids while I was a medical student which is actually one of the great secrets, I think, if you’re not Doogie Howser or the youngest female version of the youngest person in your medical school class. But medical school is actually a great time to have kids.  One thing you don’t really necessarily understand when you’re a medical student, because you’re trying to absorb so much and trying to learn so much, but really everything that you’re doing is on you. You are a part of a team but there’s no one on the team who can’t function without you. So when you have children as a medical student, if you decide to take time off it might impact your own timeline in terms of when you come back and finish your rotations and when you graduate, but it doesn’t affect everyone else. It’s probably much more common for people to have kids when they are residents or when they are practicing, and when they do that, there’s this instant pull, even from pregnancy and early postpartum, of being away from the practice. Someone’s taking your shifts and it’s a balancing act right from the very start. So that was the benefit of having both of my kids in medical school, one at the end of my second year and my second during my fourth year.” -Dr. Jen Barna

“I started residency as the only female in my program with an infant and a toddler, and we made it through the five year residency. I was very conscious as a resident of always trying to make sure that I pulled my weight and that the guys were not really aware, on a professional level, that there was anything different about me as a resident. But it was tough and there were some little tricks that I figured out along the way, like having my kids nearby so that once they were old enough to be in preschool I could run over if anything came up. I could run over there quickly and get very quickly back to work. We had some help at home when they were really little, we had a nanny live with us, which was a huge help and got us through the early stages. We actually had a wonderful day care as well but you know how little infants and toddlers can get sick a lot and that was something we needed to deal with at the time so we ended up with someone who helped us out at home, and that worked out well. Then we really ended up figuring out that between my husband and myself, we tried to juggle our schedules so that by the time I was in my last year of residency he was able to cut back to part time and he worked in the mornings and picked up the kids at noon every day from preschool. That took a lot of stress off of me, knowing that he was there for them.” -Dr. Jen Barna

“That’s great. It’s great to be in a partnership where a husband or wife doesn’t work full-time, and in a lot of dual income parenting families that can help, and it’s not available to everyone and both Jen and I know that. So we’re not saying our advice is that you find a spouse that doesn’t work full-time. A lot of times I’m coaching dual physician families and so that’s an absolutely completely different animal there. I do think it’s interesting to note because this comes up with a lot of my clients who are physicians and who are moms or dads with young children. But it’s particularly a big issue for the moms because they tend to take on more of the duties for planning childcare, supervising childcare and for being the kind of point person. A lot of times people are stressed out when they have young kids, deciding between daycare and a nanny. And a daycare, which maybe you’re in a hospital system that has one on site, which is great, but then the kids do get sick and a lot of times when I’m coaching people it’s opening their eyes to the fact that hybrid solutions and creative solutions are wonderful in this point of your life. Physicians can be very beautiful linear thinkers and just really strong thinkers about how to solve problems but in a rather linear way. So I’m always inviting people when it comes to this to get as creative and think about as many hybrid solutions as we can. So sometimes that means having back up nannies, having daycares with back up nannies, in some cases it’s having an au pair or a nanny that’s there for eight hours of the day and then another one that’s there for an hour and a half in the morning. Because under federal US labor laws they need to only work for eight hours and that’s not usually a physician’s schedule. So we get creative and say, ‘Ok, yep it’s an investment and it’s an expense and it’s one that deals with the reality of the actual life situation.’ I see a lot of my physician clients, especially with young kids, struggling because they have this plan set up for when everything goes normal but they haven’t really thought through what happens when somebody gets sick. And what happens when you get stuck in surgery. And so it’s just creating those hybrid solutions I think that gives us permission and some space.” -Master Certified Coach, Jill Farmer

“Yeah, absolutely. I always had the feeling that I was walking on a tightrope because it was like as long as nothing goes wrong, we’re in good shape. Everyone needs to stay healthy, nothing unexpected. As long as nothing unexpected happens, everything’s fine. But I used to be so stressed, worried you know, that something would come up. Of course kids get sick and then it’s always a struggle. So we would go back-and-forth, like the one year that Jim cut back to part time. That was a decision, that was a financial choice we made that really had consequences, but it was the best decision that we could make at the time. And we kind of made decisions like that. We just never had family nearby so we kind of had to figure it out as we went. The kids were pretty adaptable. I remember one conversation when I was a resident, one night I came home, I was on a rotation where you could actually come home for dinner. I was tucking my daughter in (to sleep), she was four years old, and she said, ‘Do you have to go back to the hospital tonight?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ She said, ‘Why do you have that job?’ And I said, ‘Well before you were born I made a commitment and that’s like a promise, and now I have to keep my promise.’ And she said, ‘Did you not think that you were going to have kids?!’ It really just pierced my heart. I thought the interesting insightfulness of the question, the reality was, although I knew I was going to have kids, I didn’t know I was going to want to be with my kids as much as I did. I thought prior to that that it would be fine to have other people have a major part of helping take care of my kids and in reality, as soon as they were born, I really wanted to be with them more than anything else. But that wasn’t the way that we decided to proceed, despite the fact that that was the way I felt. So we made the best of it and I think our kids actually turned out to be really thoughtful, compassionate and hard-working adults and they probably benefited, all in all, from having a working mom as an example. So it all works out, whatever you decide.” -Dr. Jen Barna


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Board-certified practicing radiologist, founder and CEO ofDocWorking, and host of top rankedDocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast

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