Hema’s transition into motherhood, her revelations on a crashing plane and in a hopeless OR really spoke to an ongoing discussion in medicine regarding parenthood and career balance. This practice of pushing aside, or putting off parenthood, ‘just till I start my career,’ or ‘ after I finish my training,’ etc is something I’m sure is not unique to medicine. Interestingly that tension was exemplified by a series of articles published in Emergency Medicine News not too long ago in mid 2017.
The first commentary was printed in July 2017 describing the balance between treating patients and being present for family medical emergencies. Dr. Sandra Scott Simmons describes her experience:
“The conflict between our core values as parents and as EPs creates significant cognitive dissonance. Receiving a text with a photo of an ankle looking like Cole’s looked that night would make most people drop everything to be with him in the ED, but I still showed up to work. I’ve never felt so much inner turmoil during a shift. Parenting may be first on our priority list, but our careers don’t always allow us to realize that ideal. Physicians valiantly do what it takes to meet the high expectations placed upon us, but we’re far from invincible. The cognitive dissonance produced by choices we are forced to make will ultimately affect all of us and our families.” (1)
In a letter to the editor, Dr. Geoffrey Martin offers his response on this long debated balance:
“Certainly many families feel the pain of mothers trying to fulfill both roles with equal expertise while suffering terrible “mommy guilt” when significant events occur in their families’ lives. In the end, it’s a choice. Those natural mothering tendencies don’t have to disappear when you become a physician, but you can plan a little differently so that you can experience the richness and fulfillment of both. While you can’t reasonably expect everything simultaneously, with planning and pragmatism you can have both, in their season at their time.
If you’re planning to tilt your lance at a windmill, maybe take on the lie that women should be everything all the time to everyone. Be a mom, be a wife, be a doctor, but each in its season. Don’t expect to do them all simultaneously with expert ability and no pain. It’s in very few women’s nature, and there’s almost always pain.” (2)
And again, Drs. Tintinalli, Kass and Wolfe Respond to ‘Parenthood and Medicine, Each in its Season’ in Emergency Physicians Monthly. Tintinalli’s commentary concludes:
“Does a Dad feel any different than a Mom in a situation like this? No way. The seasons change with age – your age, your children’s ages, your parents ages – but the tender feelings never go away.
Dr. Geoff Martin seems like a fine guy (based on a video on vitals.com). He seems proud to be an emergency physician. He gives food for thought when he writes “you can plan a little differently so that you can experience the richness and fulfillment [of both].” But change the words “women” or “moms” to “men” or “dads,” and you get the same angst.
We all make choices. When we realize the pressures and choices become unbearable, time to re-calibrate. Emergency medicine provides us with a world of professional choices: full-time, part-time, hardly-any-time, high-intensity, low-intensity. We are lucky. We are doctors. We are parents, sons, daughters, friends. We do the very best we can.” (3)
What has been your experience? How do your priorities, family or otherwise, balance your sense of responsibility to your career? Does it take a crashing plane and a medical disaster, like in the story of Hema to take a fresh perspective on the debate?
- Simons, S. S. (2017). ER Goddess. Emergency Medicine News,39(9), 6. doi:10.1097/01.eem.0000524788.36561.5f
- Martin, G. (2017). Letter to the Editor: Parenthood and Medicine, Each in Its Season. Emergency Medicine News,39(8), 21. doi:10.1097/01.eem.0000522233.73773.41
- Tintinalli, J. (2017, August 22). Drs. Tintinalli, Kass and Wolfe Respond to ‘Parenthood and Medicine, Each in its Season’. Retrieved from http://epmonthly.com/article/three-women-respond-parenthood-medicine-season/; Emergency Physician Monthly