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Is There a Perfect Time to Have Children in Residency?

Nicole Sparks, MD

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August 02, 2021

I found out I was pregnant 1 month after starting residency. Yes, 1 month into an ob/gyn residency.

After my initial surprise, I thought about all of the attending physicians I worked with who told me that having a family as an ob/gyn would be impossible. I wondered about how much time I would need to take off and if I would graduate on time. How would I be able to make up my crazy call schedule? What would my co-residents think? What began as a very special moment resulted in a lot of undue worry and stress.

Five weeks is the amount of time I took off after having a Cesarean delivery. I added two more weeks by using my vacation time because the thought of leaving my son was almost unbearable. After my second Cesarean delivery, I only took 4 weeks off so I could graduate on time. Thoughts of my residency being extended past an already grueling 4 years kept me from taking the time I needed after two Cesarean deliveries.

I realized at this point as a resident that it was incredibly important for residencies not only to teach us to be amazing and quality physicians, but to truly support our wellness as well. This includes supporting our decisions to have families in training. As someone who had her children during her first and last year of residency, this topic is of utmost importance to me.

According to ABMS.org "starting in July 2021, all ABMS Member Boards with training programs of two or more years' duration will allow for a minimum of six weeks away once during training for purposes of parental, caregiver, and medical leave, without exhausting time allowed for vacation or sick leave and without requiring an extension in training."

The growing shifts in viewpoints regarding work-life balance and parental roles had a great influence in the creation of this policy which fosters an environment that supports our trainees' ability to care not only for patients, but also for themselves and their families," stated Richard E. Hawkins, MD, ABMS president and chief executive officer.

I am so excited about the new policy changes that grant a minimum of 6 weeks of leave that do not cut into vacation time. Having children during medical training is not a new concept.

According to the Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges, approximately 40% of survey respondents planned to have children during their GME training. It should be a priority for programs to support residents during parental leave and especially when they return to work. It is hard for us to take care of our patients when we do not take care of ourselves.

We say "wellness," but what does that actually mean? Wellness is more than attending a wellness conference or having 1 day for team building with residents. I hope policies like these propel us in the right direction to ensure a happier environment for residents and their families. I hope we can redefine what it means to have children during medical training.

It is important to not only produce physicians who are competent and provide quality care but also support their mental and emotional well-being during a stressful training period. I cannot tell you when the perfect time is for you to have children during your training. What I can tell you is that you should feel supported no matter when you decide that the time is right.

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About Dr Nicole Sparks
Nicole Sparks, MD, is a general obstetrician and gynecologist in the North Atlanta area. She also has a successful lifestyle blog at nicolealiciamd.com and social media presence, where she covers a wide range of topics, including how to prepare for gynecology appointments, how to advocate for yourself during office visits, having children during medical training, and navigating a medical career as a mother. Her passions include encouraging and empowering women to pursue their dreams without sacrificing their dream of motherhood. Topics Dr Sparks like to discuss include balancing motherhood and medicine, encouraging women entrepreneurs, and discussing inequities that persist in the medical field. Her goal is to have mothers feel completely supported in the medical field, no matter the specialty. Dr Sparks lives in Atlanta with her husband, two children, and a mini Australian Shepherd.

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