How to Balance Family Life as an Ob/Gyn

Nicole Sparks, MD


December 01, 2021

Is it possible to become an ob/gyn and have a family?

This is one of the most common questions I get asked as an ob/gyn with children. Medical students are worried about how they can handle the rigors of an ob/gyn residency and have a family. The historically stressful and unpredictable lifestyle surrounding the field of obstetrics and gynecology has turned many away from an otherwise rewarding specialty. Students wonder amid delivering hundreds of babies whether they will have time for their own. I had those same worries knowing very early on that I wanted a family, but also knowing that I loved the specialty.

A traditional ob/gyn will work many hours even after residency. Babies do not come on a set schedule, so we often split our time between a busy office, performing procedures, and running over to the hospital for a delivery, only to run back to the office and see more patients. Ironically, this is what drew me to the field: There is never a dull day.

But what really scares people from this field is the call. Sometimes, it can be grueling, stressful, and take lots of time away from family, depending on how much call you take. Between call, reading ultrasounds, returning messages to patients, signing off on labs, charting, rounding, deliveries, and surgeries, it seems as if there are never enough hours in the day.

A unique way that the specialty has transformed through the years is through the role of a "hospitalist" or "laborist." The hospitalist concept was first suggested in 2002 as it pertains to obstetrics and gynecology.

While a traditional ob/gyn will split their time between office duties and hospital duties, a hospitalist will assume all of the responsibilities at the hospital, including ob emergencies, deliveries, cesarean deliveries, triages, postpartum care, and unassigned laboring patients. A laborist or ob hospitalist will usually work 12- to 24-hour shifts 7-8 days a month. Easy math will show you that that leaves 20-plus days of the month outside of the confines of the hospital for yourself and your family.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states: "The ob-gyn hospitalist model has the potential to achieve benefits for obstetric patients, obstetric providers, and hospitals. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists supports the continued development and study of the obstetric and gynecologic (ob-gyn) hospitalist model as one potential approach to improve patient safety and professional satisfaction across delivery settings."

Earlier this year, I transitioned to the role of an ob hospitalist. I was worried at first that I would not develop the same relationships I had with my patients in private practice. However, I realized that I was still able to take great care of patients and now have more time with my family. With my schedule, I may have 7-10 consecutive days off each month as opposed to private practice, where I got 4 weeks of vacation each year. I still get to deliver babies and take care of patients without the in-office responsibilities, and I define my own schedule.

Choosing this path was my way of infusing predictability into an otherwise unpredictable schedule. Now, I can do things like pick up my children from school, help with homework, cook dinner, read bedtime stories, and be more hands-on than I was before. If there are extracurricular activities or important events I do not want to miss, I can design my schedule around those dates. This, in turn, helped me to combat the burnout I was feeling very early in my career.

This model is not for everyone, but it does provide an alternative to those who are truly worried about the intense and unpredictable schedule that often accompanies this specialty.

I truly believe that there are ways to positively practice medicine and to be present with family. It does not have to be either/or. I remember when I was a medical student, attendings would try to talk me out of a surgical specialty, redirecting me to one that was more "family friendly." There are ways to make any specialty more conducive to family life. Whether it is joining a big practice to take less call, working part time, becoming a hospitalist, or simply setting boundaries, you can design practicing medicine to seamlessly integrate your family as well.

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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 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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