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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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Britt DeRuyter

Undergraduate: St. Olaf College, 2007
Major: Biology
Medical school: Medical College of Wisconsin – Central Wisconsin
Anticipated Graduation Year: 2019

How do you balance your time between school and family?

Balancing medical school responsibilities with parenting four young children has been by far the most challenging aspect of medical school.  Striving to be both a successful student and parent is incredibly exhausting emotionally and physically.  I remember a time when it was the night before my first exam.  I was nursing my youngest while scrolling through notes on my laptop with one hand and rubbing another child’s back with the other hand.  I wondered to myself if this was what they meant by ‘balance.’  Over the past few years my perception of balance has evolved, and so has my mental toughness.  This experience required me to build an additional skillset beyond learning medicine, and I expect to be a better doctor for it.

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

Our family relies entirely on my husband’s ability to stay home and manage the daily goings-on of a busy family of six.  With the harder job of the two of us, he has learned how to cook in mass quantities, fold laundry around the clock, and get four boys fed and dressed and to school on time every day.  We would not be able to function without him. 

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 share many of the same past-times, I still find that our commonalities far outnumber our differences. 

Does your school offer any support systems for parents?

My program makes great efforts to include families in social functions.  Our student services manager will send out special congratulations to medical student families for our achievements and collects treat bags from faculty and staff for our children on holidays. 

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

As I stated earlier, balancing family and school is the most difficult challenge.  I choose to study at home so I can be more available; however, as responsibilities shift more toward time in clinic, I make sure we sit down together for dinner and that I’m a fixture of their bedtime routine every night.  They understand that mom is working to help other people when I’m not at home with them.

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. 

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