Helping Physician Moms Navigate Their Busy Lives

Sep 29, 2021 | Gender, Thriving

Caren, 37, is a pediatrician with two daughters, 11-months-old and 3-years-old. She’s married to an orthopedic surgeon who’s in surgery 3 days a week. They moved to the state 5 months ago and have no family members or close friends in the area. Both daughters attend a daycare facility 20 minutes from home. They have not yet found any babysitters, in part because Caren doesn’t like the idea of leaving her children with strangers.

On a Sunday night at 11pm, Caren is awoken by her older daughter, who is feverish and coughing. Caren gets her settled, then spends a sleepless night, with an ear for her child and thoughts of impending doom about having to call out from her busy practice, yet again.

In the morning, her husband leaves for the hospital. He has 4 hip replacements that day, and Caren knows he can’t leave the OR empty. Her day will be filled with caring for her sick daughter, trying to field calls and address inbox messages, catching up on charting, and imagining what the other providers in the office are thinking—or saying. “She never shows up.” “I have to cover for her again?” “She’s not committed.”

Caren makes the call to the office manager, feeling torn. She wants to care for her ill child, but she is racked with guilt for leaving her colleagues in the lurch and for all the patients who will need to reschedule.

Women physicians with young families often feel stretched thin, overwhelmed, and pulled in many different directions between their professional roles in medicine and their roles as mothers, providers, and family managers. They long to be the best version of themselves in every role, yet frequently feel they’re not meeting their expectations. Quite often, this leads to “mom guilt.”

 Women with work-home conflicts are known to experience burnout at higher rates, leading to dissatisfaction, depression, anxiety, and often to reducing their work hours or leaving their position completely.1 Integrating personal and professional life put a considerable strain on women physicians.2 In fact, physicians with work life conflicts have a higher chance of reducing their clinical hours within the first six years of completing their medical training.3

Eventually, Caren finds a professional coach who works with women physicians. Through coaching, Caren develops strategies to address the stressful situation. She has a productive conversation with her husband, and they work out an agreement by which they know ahead of time who will call out if a child is ill.

She also works on identifying several sources of back-up childcare, anticipating that there will be times when it will be needed. Finally, with her coach she is able to reframe her thoughts about the situation. She realizes that the other physicians in the practice have older children and can empathize with her situation. She speaks with a physician leader who’s a mother and is reassured that others understand. The next time one of her daughters is ill, the new strategies fall into place. Over the course of the next year, she calls out only once.

If you identify with Caren’s challenges, you’re not alone.

American Medical Women’s Association-endorsed, professional coaches have created a six-month group coaching program to guide women physicians with young families to find strategies, techniques, and new perspectives to help navigate these challenging situations. Through group discussions, coaching, and specially designed activities, participants in the Physicians with Young Families Group Coaching Program will develop new skills, share their experiences, and build a strong sense of community.

If you want to thrive in your roles as a physician and a mother of young children, this program is for you. Spots are limited and will go fast!  For further information and to secure your place, visit https://amwa.memberclicks.net/pwya-application#/.

References

  1. Hertzberg TK, Rø KI, Vaglum PJ, Moum T, Røvik JO, Gude T, Ekeberg Ø, Tyssen R. Work-home interface stress: an important predictor of emotional exhaustion 15 years into a medical career. Ind Health. 2016;54(2):139-48. link
  2. Dyrbye LN, Freischlag J, Kaups KL, Oreskovich MR, Satele DV, Hanks JB, Sloan JA, Balch CM, Shanafelt TD. Work-home conflicts have a substantial impact on career decisions that affect the adequacy of the surgical workforce. Arch Surg. 2012 Oct;147(10):933-9. link
  3. Frank E, Zhao Z, Sen S, Guille C. Gender Disparities in Work and Parental Status Among Early Career Physicians. JAMA Netw Open. 2019 Aug 2;2(8):e198340. link

Photo credit: Vitolda Klein at Unsplash

[ ABOUT THE AUTHOR ]

Diane W. Shannon

MD, MPH, ACC

Diane Shannon is an award-winning writer, author, and coach. Since leaving practice as a primary care physician due to burnout, she has worked to support physicians in achieving their personal and professional goals and to highlight the changes needed to reduce burnout, improve career satisfaction, and protect the bidirectional healing power of the patient-physician relationship.

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