What It's Like to be a Parent in Medical School

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A medical student answers questions about what it's like to be a parent while in medical school.

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Ryan Reyes

Undergraduate: University of Arkansas-Monticello
Major: Biology & Chemisty 
Medical school: University of Texas Health San Antonio 
Anticipated Graduation Year: 2023

Bio: Ryan Reyes grew up in a small Texas town of 1,000 people with no understanding of what a life in science or medicine entailed. However, after his mother-in-law passed away from metastatic breast cancer, he committed himself to a career as a physician-scientist in oncology. Since then, he has had many research and clinical mentors who recognized his potential and supported him during his MD/PhD training at UT Health San Antonio. He attributes his success to their support as well as his faith, and the love of his wife and 3 sons.

How do you balance your time between school and family?

Balancing time between school and family meant putting a system in place that allowed me to feel as if I could give 100% to each responsibility in the moment. For me, this means no working or studying from 5 PM until the kids go to bed and no working on Sundays. If the rotation I was on necessitated staying late or going in on a weekend, I would find new opportunities to “steal” back time for my wife and kids, rather than accumulating a deficit that would inevitably make me feel burned out and too exhausted to parent well.

What childcare options do you have while you’re in class or studying?

My wife works full time as a pharmacist, so as our family grew, we transitioned from using a nearby daycare (within walking distance,) to my mother helping watch the kids during the day. We have been blessed to have these options and our current life rhythm will continue to inform what I think is reasonable in the future for residency and beyond.

Does being a parent affect your relationship with your classmates?

Yes, but in a positive way.  Being a medical student is difficult for everyone, and I think my classmates without children recognize and respect the added challenges parents face. While I don’t attend all the social gatherings or have a lifestyle outside of medicine that is similar to my peers, I still find that our commonalities far outnumber our differences. Even more than relationships with classmates, having children and being able to discuss the challenges of balancing career and family has helped me develop meaningful relationships with residents, fellows, and attendings. There is a shared humanity of knowing what a rough night of sleep with a sick child is like that transcends the training stage and creates an empathic bond between fellow parents. Likewise, being able to discuss parenthood with patients has helped them view me in a different light, often making them more willing to engage.

Does your school offer any support systems for parents?

I have focused on building community outside of the academic setting. For example, developing relationships with classmate and non-classmate parents at church, has been a huge source of support for both my wife and me. My medical school is not located close to my family, but I can imagine this would have been a great source of help and if it had been an option when matriculating, would have been the best choice.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve encountered while being a parent in medical school?

Working while at home has been challenging because of the pervasive sense of guilt I’ve felt being physically so close to my kids but not being able to interact with them during dedicated study time. It has been easier to be away from home, such as in the hospital or library, where I can be present to the tasks at hand more easily. It is much harder mentally working at home and going downstairs to get a glass of water, only to have my 3-year-old ask several times “Dad, can you play now? Dad, are you done working yet?” To combat this, I have tried to become as efficient as possible with my time and learn how to provide more satisfying answers to my kids like “Not yet, but I’m looking forward to playing baseball with you in the backyard when I finish.”

What advice would you give to aspiring doctors who are parents or plan to start a family while in medical school?

I would remind parents that there really is no “best time” to go to medical school or to start a family. Understand that both you and your family will make tremendous sacrifices, but that family should not be considered an obstacle. There will be inevitable challenges and struggles; however, your motivation to achieve your goals will only be magnified by your own personal fan club. I would not have performed as well or remained as happy as I have throughout medical school without my family.  In other words, the fulfillment you will receive from not putting your “real life” on hold during training will far outweigh the associated struggles and make all the work more meaningful.

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