Dr. Mom--an oxymoron?

April 10, 2000

Is it possible to divide your time between medicine and motherhood--and preserve your sanity? This young FP wrestled with the question.

Dr. Mom—an oxymoron?

 

Is it possible to divide your time between medicine and motherhood—and preserve your sanity? This young FP wrestled with the question.

By Kristine P. Pultorak, DO
Family Physician/Dixon, IL

For three years, I was an ambitious young doctor, just out of residency. As a family physician in a large, rural multispecialty group, I filled my time with office appointments, inpatient care, the occasional emergency, and periodic night call. Then I'd go home to my second full-time position as a wife and mother.

When I became pregnant with my second child in late 1998, I knew something would have to give. My son, Daniel, was a rambunctious 3-year-old. Though I loved both jobs, together they amounted to great daily stress. With a second baby, the stress would be impossible. Now, how do you choose what to concentrate on in life when being a doctor and a mother are both integral parts of the person you are?

My decision was made for me, at least temporarily, when a pregnancy complication put me on bed rest for three months. Though I took phone calls at home, I missed the excitement of the office and the hospital.

During this time, I'd been having difficulty negotiating a new contract with my employer and documenting the terms of my maternity leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act would have covered most of it, but I'd hoped to take a few extra months to nurse the baby.

The group and I had a tentative verbal agreement as to how long I'd spend away from the job. But when it came time to finalize the deal, they resisted. This made me feel uneasy. During this difficult period, my father, a favorite aunt, and a beloved family pet all died within a month.

Since I couldn't be assured I'd have a job—or legal recourse if the group decided not to abide by its verbal agreement to allow me a few more months off—it became clear that I had an important decision to make.

On May 8, 1999, Olivia Frances was born.

I always knew that motherhood was part of my calling here on earth, as well as my legacy, but medicine was a vital part of my life, too. After all, primary care is a lot like parenthood. You look after people who need you, treat the bumps and bruises of life, listen, and give advice. How do you tell individuals who have come to care for and depend on you that you won't be there anymore? At the same time, the prospect of telling my 3-year-old that I would go back to work seemed more daunting. He's more manipulative than many of my patients.

After much soul-searching—and failing to resolve contractual issues with the medical group—I chose to continue full-time for a while with my two pint-sized bosses. It's been almost a year now, and I have few regrets. Each important step in the kids' lives reminds me less of what I gave up than what I have gained.

When I return to medicine, I will bring knowledge not found in any textbook. Today, my professors may be in diapers, throwing tantrums and eating strained food, but the lessons they teach me are more valuable and life-affirming than anything in CME.

 

Kristine Pultorak. Dr. Mom--an oxymoron?. Medical Economics 2000;7:198.

x