Many of us here at WRaPEM understand firsthand the juggle that comes with being both a doctor and a parent. In the following blog posts, two doctors share their stories of how they successfully combine parenting and emergency medicine, and how their perspectives about their work changed after becoming a parent.
Building a positive mindset – the parent-trainee
By Anna Bowen
As I write this I am feeding my beautiful five week old baby while watching my beautiful three year old out of the corner of my eye. He’s playing with one of our dogs on the floor and is managing to stay away from the paints that we were using earlier.
I’d like to reflect upon the challenges of being a mum whilst going through ED training, and to share any tips I have for making it work. Right now, I’ll be honest and say that I find the path ahead a bit daunting, but I can probably rustle up a few insights to share, having travelled this journey.
I am now a late phase advanced trainee: I have two years of training time to complete and of course that pesky fellowship exam. I still have seven years in which to do it – which takes the pressure off slightly. Or at least it would if we weren’t so financially challenged. Both our children have come after a lot of expensive IVF and I would be lying if I denied that a consultant salary is appealing. I’m not thrilled about working endless registrar night shifts either, especially as my toddler no longer lets me get much sleep during the day.
Anyway I digress… I’m supposed to be giving out helpful advice on how to get through ED training with children. I feel like far from an expert on this, but here goes.
I could start by listing all the reasons why having children makes it harder to get through your training – and it does. Instead I’m going to tell you something that no one else probably will: having children can actually be an advantage. Or rather, you can certainly use it to your advantage – in order to enhance your own capability. I did my primary exams when my son was four months old. There were challenges of course: I was sleep deprived, hormonal, had less time etc. But I also had something that I didn’t have in the same way as before: motivation. Having children changes your focus and forces you to prioritise. For me that meant that I didn’t want to waste time. Almost suddenly, I learnt to use my time efficiently because I knew it was in short supply. I became more organised, better at multitasking, and the procrastination skills I have spent years honing were put on the back burner.
The challenges in trying to do ED training with children are undeniable. The biggest one, and one that I completely underestimated, was returning to work after maternity leave. I went back full time when my son was six months old and I knew it was going to be tough, but not for the reasons I’d imagined.
I knew I would feel torn and would miss him terribly. What I didn’t know was how this would impact my medical practice. I have never had a huge amount of confidence as a doctor and definitely suffer mild imposter syndrome. However, my confidence took a further hit upon my return to work, and I became quite anxious. I hated being in Resus and I found myself dreading being in charge on night shifts. I felt as though I was an incompetent doctor and started to question not only whether emergency medicine was right for me, but whether I should still be a doctor at all! The job that I had once loved became one that I dreaded.
I felt like I wasn’t being a good enough mum because I was working so much, and I felt like I wasn’t being a good enough doctor because my focus had shifted elsewhere. I was stuck under a black cloud that just wouldn’t blow away. This negative mindset at work lasted at least a year before it abated. I started to change my expectations and accepted that in order to have a career and a family, then my best efforts of doing both would just have to be good enough. I also started to do other things to improve my confidence and general wellbeing like exercising, taking guitar lessons and spending quality time with my family. I even started meditating – something I thought I would never do!
The last twelve months have been really good for me; I have finally regained an appetite for my training. I have started to love my job again and I feel really glad that I stuck it out. My confidence is slowly improving and I now feel enthused about progressing and preparing for my fellowship exam.
The only hurdle is that I’ve just had another baby and will again have to go back to work full time when this one is five months old. I’ve thought a lot about how I can make this transition better the second time around and what advice I would give to anyone in a similar situation. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
– I’ve started doing a little bit of study so that I won’t feel so lost when I first go back.
– I’ve planned out my jobs for the next two years, and also a realistic plan for studying for the fellowship exam while juggling two small children.
– I’ve had a meeting with my mentor recently, which has really helped to talk through some of these issues and make some plans. I would definitely recommend getting a mentor or making an effort to talk to trusted work colleagues who have been in a similar situation.
Ultimately, I think that how you manage training with having children is the same as managing any challenging situation – it comes down to your mindset. I plan to continue taking steps to cultivate a positive mindset and to build up my resilience to take on the months ahead.
In the meantime, my three year old is now trying to paint the dog and the baby and I are covered in vomit, so it’s goodbye from me for now…