Alex Graduating Medical School

The Day I Gave Up My Medical Career to Become a Stay-at-home Mom

Okay so it wasn’t as dramatic as ONE DAY, but I did, in essence, put away my medical career for good (unless the government changes the requirements to practice medicine, i.e., stops requiring doctors to attend residency, be licensed, be board-eligible, etc).

I was a fourth-year medical student whose husband, S, was a second-year resident in pediatrics.  We had thought on and off about getting pregnant but the PLAN was to wait until I was a second-year pediatric resident when I would have the least amount of hours to work.

Well, in January 2006, I’m two weeks late. Like any normal medical student, I think: I would tell my patient to take a pregnancy test just in case.  So off we go to CVS and S jokes: Wouldn’t it be funny if you really were pregnant? At this point, I should have known a pink cross with in my future, but it took two pregnancy tests (one that night and another in the morning JUST IN CASE) for me to realize I’m pregnant.  YAY!  But wait … what is that due date again?  Hmm… I’ll be two months into my intern year in a pediatric residency (which is the worst year of a resident’s life — working 80 hours-a-week with 30-hour shifts (no, you did not misread that) thrown in the mix every four days most months of the year).  And my husband will be a third-year resident in the same program ALSO working 80 hours-a-week although less months of the year.  When we put our name on the daycare waiting list at the hospital the following week, we found out it is open from 6:00 a.m. to midnight.  I started imagining my baby there at midnight.   And I was not happy.  I spoke to many moms who are able to be great pediatric residents and great moms.  But I had a sinking feeling as this little boy grew inside me that I was not one of them.

Soon I rallied and I thought: I can do this!! Just not THIS year. I’ll just take a year off after graduating medical school. Lots of people do it.  I only have to resubmit my application in November when my son is 3-months-old.  But, I reasoned, he’ll be almost a year when I begin my residency, and my husband will be working an 8-5 job with most weekends OFF.

So only I will have be gone a lot.  Just me.  Gone.  A lot.

I waddled down the aisle and accepted my medical degree in May with my shiny new plan in place.  I pushed my son out in August.  Mom, M.D., doing her thing.  But as November loomed closer and I hadn’t slept in months and my husband was working 30-hour shifts, I just couldn’t do it.  I ignored the upcoming deadline for as long as I could, but finally called my husband at work.  I’m not going to apply for residency.  He said: I know.  I told my friend K.  She said: I know.  I seemed to be the only one not in the loop.

I realized over those first few months that I was not capable of being the mom I want to be and work that much.  Some people can.  They are AMAZING women.  But some people can’t.  They are ME.

Honestly, I was (am?) shocked that I’m built to be a stay-at-home mom.  If you had asked me the month before I got pregnant, I would have said: no way.  I will never stay at home.  I am a working mom.  Period.  I have NO desire to be a stay-at-home mom. I thought that the best mom that I could be included me working.  I was wrong.

Staying at home is hard, but it’s hardest on my ego.  I often avoid telling people about my medical degree because I know that without a residency, I can’t practice.  When I tell them, I feel like I have to tell my whole journey.  (Although I’m pretty sure that they are just making small talk — no one envies the guy who asks me THAT question at the dinner party.)

When I am feeling uncomfortable with my decision, I think: I’ll eventually do something with the medical degree. But maybe I already have.  Maybe it’s in having a little extra knowledge while I take care of my children.  Or help out friends with their medical questions.  I love hearing stories of others who found callings outside of the hospitals because I want to have a career once my children are in school full-time.  But I can’t ever see myself spending 80 hours-a-week away from them.  Maybe I’ll focus on my writing full-time. (Don’t hold me to it. I know better than to make any predictions these days.)

Did I waste my time?  I don’t know.  Would it have been nice to know all this before I got pregnant?  Heck yeah!  I would have picked a career that I could go back to in five years.  Nursing.  Teaching.  Law.  But I also trust that I made the decision to attend medical school with the facts I had at hand so I must have been meant to get the degree.

I know that staying at home with my (now two) children is the right thing for me today.  And I still stick the M.D. at the end of my name when I feel like it.  Because I earned it.  And whether my pride sometimes tells me I could be “more,” my heart tells me to stay put.  Because there is no more or less. I am no more or less than the moms who are doctors.  They are no more or less than moms who stay at home.

PS.  My story is my story.  I have no judgment on moms who work or moms who stay home.  I hope that my post reflects this — I know that I’m delving into a controversial topic right off the bat.  I heard a study once (on NPR?) that moms who work part-time are the happiest.   But I’m pretty sure it’s the moms who can choose to do what they feel in their hearts is right for them.  I didn’t have as much choice in my decision as I would have liked (part-time-medical-residency isn’t much of an option, trust me), but even if I had, I would have eventually realized that staying at home is for me.  It may have just taken longer and maybe another degree.

This post originally appeared on The Mommies Network

Alex Iwashyna

Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, poet and writer by 30. She spends most of her writing time on LateEnough.com, a humor blog (except when it's serious) about her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, and dancing like everyone is watching. She also has a soft spot for culture, politics, and rude Southern people who offend her Yankee sensibilities. She parents an 2 elementary age children, 4 cats, and 1 puppy, who are all Southern but not rude. Yet.

41 thoughts on “The Day I Gave Up My Medical Career to Become a Stay-at-home Mom

  1. I just found your blog and love it! I think you wrote a very honest post that is not at all offensive or controversial. Your decision was personal and I am glad you feel good about it. Our instincts are powerful but not all of us listen to, hear or acknowledge it.

    1. Thanks! I’m so glad that you found it This is my VERY first post (when I was still just guest posting on TMN) and I felt a bit self-conscious delving into such a controversial topic right off the bat. I’m glad that it comes across as my decision based on my experience because it’s so easy to judge as moms (and women and humans). Thanks again for your comment and visit!

  2. Okay, so I am totally totally impressed with your story!! You are an amazing person to go through medical school (which I know is super hard and very expensive too) and then decide to stay home (at least for now) with your kids. That is a big sacrafice and your children are very lucky. I am a stay at home mom too right now and sometimes I wish I could work part time. I am working on getting a book published, but until it happens, it is still kind of like a “hobby” which sounds lame and loserish. And doesn't really make me feel like I deserve real time to work on it, you know? Anyway, I totally love your blog. Thank you for visting mine and I'm really enjoying reading all your posts!! So glad I found you.

    1. Thank you !! I really appreciate the encouragement. Maybe you and I need
      to find something full time and SPLIT IT ANd I think that working on
      your book is NOT lame. It’s AWESOME. I wish that I could have the stamina
      for book writing! I felt like my writing was less hobby-ish when I started
      setting aside separate time for it. (Not just doing it when the kids are
      asleep sorta thing.)
      I’m happy we found each others’ blogs too!

  3. I actually got licensed, did my path residency, and a two year heme fellowship before I gave it up. I had one three year old and one in the oven.

    Hubby was working 80 hour weeks and my proposed academic career had me in house from 6 to 7. I got sick of it.

    A friend and I tried to “share” a position–but the school wasn’t willing to dole out two sets of benefits. I quit, she stayed. She was miserable. I was happy.

    I don’t hide my medical degree. I use it, every day. I homeschool my kids. I teach my kids. I care for my kids.

    And I do not regret my decision. Not for a minute.
    .-= The Mother´s last blog ..A Critical Thinking Experiment in Real Time =-.

    1. That’s amazing! I really thought that I was like the only one who walked away. But I keep stumbling upon bloggers who are taking a year to a lifetime off. It’s so helpful to know.
      Someone once asked why I have M.D. after my name in my email signature.
      I said: I guess because I’m proud of it. I earned it.
      But that comes easier to me today than even six months ago.
      I’m glad that you’re proud too.

  4. Beautiful Alex: you know what the old poem says, “time spent with a child is never wasted.”

    You know that’s true now. And you know who you are.
    .-= Alexandra´s last blog ..LOL =-.

  5. I just discovered your blog as well; discovered your link at http://www.adesignsovast.com and enjoyed reading your story. looking forward to reading more.

    I too, decided to stay home after the birth of my son, despite all intentions of returning at least part-time. Gut feelings can be such strong feelings….

    For what it’s worth, my father in law didn’t start his residency until he was 46 years old, after having earned his MD immediately after college. He has since had a full career and is still working. I’d like to believe that we can have it all, just not all at once.

    1. Welcome!!
      I’m glad that you trusted yourself enough to follow your gut, too. And I love this: “I’d like to believe that we can have it all, just not all at once.”
      Your FIL’s journey is SO good for me to hear. I like to know that my options are open… no matter where my path actually goes ;)

  6. HELLO fellow Philosophy mjr turned MD, turned SAHM!!! Loved hearing your story, and I felt the same way… I could not be the Mother I wanted to be while working. I just couldn’t do it. I was pregnant in my last yr of residency and was put on bed rest exactly 1 wk after completion. I knew I would not return.

    I don’t consider it a waste at all. Though I do hide my MD status more often than not… I just don’t want to explain myself all the time and I found many other SAHMs I was meeting were kind of put off by it.

    Happy to “meet” you!!!
    .-= Domestically Challenged´s last blog ..Last Day of Preschool!!! =-.

  7. Dear Mom,

    Congratulations on your decision to be a SAHM. I also am a SAHM and couldn’t really figure out how other moms could do both. I did not get to medical school or anything nearly as costly or expensive, but had started my own business.
    If I can be so bold as to suggest something to you…please do something for yourself. My sons are almost ready to leave and I will soon be out of a job. I did not plan properly and still can’t imagine doing anything that feels as meaningful. It has become an issue/worry.
    I wish you well in all of your mommy endeavors.
    Michele

  8. Hey Alex! I remember you both from med school — I think my husband and I were in the class between you guys. It’s great to hear that you picked a non-traditional path (non-traditional for the cult that is medicine, I mean) and are thriving! It’s hard knowing how to fend off judgment while choosing the right thing for our families, and unfortunately I think this struggle is often particularly acute for women. I fought to find a part-time job after we had our daughter last year, and I thank God every day that I have one, but it is amazing that the people who seem to think my priorities aren’t in order are often other doctors. (Because working 80 hours a week and seeing my baby like twice a month, now THAT would be normal.) That said, however, I’ve been really encouraged by how much more working part-time and seeking a good work-life balance is becoming accepted in the medical community, even if it is happening slowly. I mean, really, thank goodness we didn’t go to med school thirty years ago! (If they would have even let us in back then, with our EARRINGS and our FEMALE NAMES!) Anyway, I say this to encourage you should you decide to return to medicine in the future … we are seeing the light, and amazing careers are possible that allow you to care well for both your patients and your family. I’m glad you guys are doing well!

  9. Good for u. I just found out after being out of work for 7 years to be with my kids that the medical board in my state wants me to go back to school for “Clinical retraining” since I was out over four years. It’s hard but I’m leaving it go and staying home and I would do it all over again. See u could have done residency and if u would have taken too much time off at home they would tell u too go to school again. You’ll never regret your tough decision and neither will I.

  10. I just found your blog and I’m adding it as a regular read.

    I thought very hard about going to medical school and becoming a pediatrician, but eventually decided against it because of the brutal hours. I was confident I COULD do those hours, because I’d already had a few years of balancing two part time jobs and going to school full time. But I decided I didn’t want to put myself through that. I wanted a life again.

  11. Good for you! I too decided to stay home with my children only I did it after residency. I got licensed in the state the we were living in and then we moved to a different state. I found a part-time job that I thought would be perfect, but the state will not grant me a license without doing a re-entry to medicine program since I have not practiced medicine for 5 years and every physician that I have spoken with has said that the program that has been set out by the state is going to be virtually impossible to do for one reason or another. That being said, it appears that the only way I will be able to work at all is to do another fellowship or move back to the state that I am licensed in. l guess I was meant to stay at home for a while. I don’t regret being with my children one bit.

  12. Hello! I am feeling so relieved after reading your story. I too am a mother (I had 4 year old twins starting med school) and received my M.D. and now I feel that I have lost out on so many years of my children’s lives, considering residency at this point is daunting to say the least. I have thought about not going through with residency for the same reasons you cited in your discussion. I sometimes feel I owe it to my children after sacrificing so much time away from them, but I think that knowing what lies ahead of me (in terms of residency) is what is the most discouraging. I am at a crossroads at this point. Thank God I have my nursing degree and license to fall back on. I just don’t feel like my heart is in this anymore and I just can’t help but think about how residency will drag me away from my children once more. I feel almost obligated to finish this thing since I started it (and I am now 200K in debt). Reading your story has surely helped a lot. Thanks so much for posting this. May you find continued happiness and success in your life. Much blessings to you and your family. Peace.

  13. Wow. This is me. I have a D.O. after my name, but other than that…our stories are crazy parallel.

    My son was born in June right after I graduated; I didn’t even go to my graduation ceremony because I was on partial bed-rest and due to pop any minute.

    I took six months off before my internship…then another six months. After that year I told the DME at my base hospital that I just couldn’t do it. I never imagined I’d want to be a SAHM…and then I had my son and I couldn’t imagine an 80 hour workweek.

    The only downside to my decision (I’m used to the ego hit and the eyes glazing over when I tell people I meet that I’m a SAHM…like you, I rarely mention medical school) are my student loans. We paid on them for years, but my husband was in the mortgage industry and we were on the first wave of this recession. I now owe double what I did when I graduated in 1998; no way I could make a payment that would touch the principal at this point.

    Another interesting dynamic is my med school classmates…some couldn’t believe I left medicine. Others confided how much they wish they could do the same thing. I’m not sure what I would have done if my pregnancy (hello, Honeymoon Baby!) hadn’t been when it was. Another six months and I might have started an internship with the plan to take a break after he was born…might have made leaving a far more difficult decision.

    Anyway…really nice to read your story.

  14. Hello! Just found this post, glad to see that there are others out there like me! However, I’m a SAHD! I earned my MD degree 7 years ago. I find it more difficult to explain my situation since many in society view men as the bread winner. My wife is a nurse and makes enough money for our family of four. Our children are a couple years from being able to be enrolled full time in public schools but I’ve been really getting the itch to continue with my MD degree. Some of my relatives seem to think I should pursue something else like nursing, but I really want to try to complete what I went to school for. I figure if I took the time to go to nursing, I could use that time to pursue my MD career (taking USMLE steps) as opposed to taking nursing classes for 2 years or going to LPN then nursing which both would be more time and money.
    I have no regrets in doing what I am doing right now. No one knows my children better than I do. If I were working (any job, never mind being an MD) I would never have this great opportunity to watch my kids grow up and develop the way I have. Some days I take it for granted that I have all this time with my children, and wish I could just get out and work as anything so I can contribute an income and have daily interactions with other people and not have to be cleaning, cooking and not have to hear Mickey Mouse, Octonauts, Handy Manny ect. But other days I feel really lucky that I can do this for now. Anyways, I view it as they need me for now. There’s always going to be time later, when they are in scool full time, to start what I finished. It gives me hope reading about the 46 year old that started residency after earning his MD years before.
    What is your current status? Would be nice to hear your outlook at this point.

    1. Six years later, it can be occasionally hard to think about my MD, but I still don’t ever doubt my decision. I only occasionally worry about my motivates.

      On those days I feel like I threw away a gift and I’m just a doctor’s wife: http://www.lateenough.com/2011/09/i-could-have-been-the-doctor-but-now-i-am-just-his-wife/

      But on good days, I feel like I’m changing the world in the very ways I’m supposed to be: http://www.lateenough.com/2012/11/never-underestimate-the-generosity-of-others/

  15. I love your blog. I’m a medical student and I’m finding strong interest in another field, but I didn’t come this far not to finish my degree. Do you happen to know if M.D. grads can still teach without finishing residency? Not necessarily medicine, but undergraduate work.

    Thanks!

    1. I would definitely finish your degree. I don’t know what the teaching requirements are, but you could reach out to your old biology and other professors at your undergrad and ask them.

  16. I know a lot of people with simular stories in law school.
    Our rules are a bit different, but many still end up picking family over career.

    Some may say that you wasted the time in MD since you didn’t need it to be a Mom, but I say forget those people. You are a Doctor. Licensed or not, a doctor.
    Less than 3% of the nation gets a doctorate (I am factoring in JDs here too for my own hubris) No one can ever take that away from you (unless they revocate the degree for cheating……..)

    I have a 5 year old daughter and graduate in May. If it wasn’t for my wife helping with her I never would have been able to get through. Moms are very important people.

  17. you should get a PhD

    they should count the MD as the masters part of it to get you half way done to start. People respect PhD even without any license for almost everything

  18. Thank you for your blog. I recently left medical school during my third year to marry my husband (1st year resident). Neither one of us ever wanted to marry another doctor so we avoided dating, but we eventually fell in love anyway. He is older and further along in his training and after months of heart-wrenching discussions we decided that in order for us to have the marriage and eventual family that we want, it made the most sense for me to step away. We knew we would never want two of us in practice and I would more than double my school debt if I stuck around and finished just to finish. The costs were just too high – both in literal finances but also in stress, time apart, etc. I’m now 6 months out of school and one month into marriage and I’m happy but so incredibly sad. I miss school so much and I know I would have been a good doctor. I loved the patients so much. I’m trying to find a job with my 6+ years of post-high school training, but what good is a medical education when it’s incomplete? I’m not having much luck. I know it will be a little easier when kids come along and I can see my sacrifice paying off a little more, but I still wonder if I will ever feel totally at peace. I made my decision knowing that at the end of my life, it will matter more to me that I was a devoted wife and mother than that I was a successful physician…but I hope I don’t have to wait until the end to feel complete joy. Anyway, helps to read from someone who is walking this road a few years ahead of me. Thanks for your insights.

  19. Hi,

    Its really great to read your post. Its really encouraging. The most important thing is to become satisfied once you decide about staying at home and then not to regret it. I am a doctor and did not continue after the birth of my children (now 4), but wasted a lot of time in furstration. But I always admire my elder sister, who is also a doctor and after the birth of her first child (now 4 kids) that she ll not continue and never regreted it.

  20. I graduated last year with my MD and started a pediatric residency when my son was 6 months old. I did three months of residency and quit after crying everyday on my way to work. I hated every moment of being away from my son and felt that breast pumping was the so unnatural. I mean, my baby should be pumping my breast – not this machine. Anyway, I quit. I will never go back to residency of any kind as there is not one that will ever be family friendly enough for me (expecting child 2!). I am currently working on getting my MBA and when the kids are in school will see where life leads. With an MD and an MBA there’s got to be a job out there somewhere when that time arrives.

    Thanks for your post. I dig it a lot and find much respite in the fact that I am not the only one out there “sitting” on a medical degree. Thanks!

  21. HI. I hope it’s ok that i’m linking to your post from my Tumblr blog.

    I just got out of med school, did not get accepted at residency, a single mom… and now kinda lost.

    Thank you. I love this. It’s very grounded and real. =)

  22. Hi Alex, I just chanced upon your blog trying to find someone who went through a similar situation. I’m going through a trying time after going through my medical studies and would appreciate if I could discuss it privately through email to see if you have any suggestions for me. Thank you.

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