Parenting in Medical School: A Rewarding Challenge

One of the greatest challenges that someone can face is also one of the most common: attending school while raising a child. According to the American Council on Education, in the United States alone 3.5 million single parents were admitted to university during the 2011-2012 school year. More importantly, single parent enrollment has skyrocketed since the 1990s. But where does medical school stand among these statistics?

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research reports that the number of single mothers enrolled in college more than doubled in 12 academic years, between 1999 and 2012. A key piece of the puzzle shows that enrollment of single parents has increased at a much greater rate than the overall enrollment rate of undergraduate students. This statistic is a double edged sword-while it’s positive and inspiring that more mothers are pursuing higher education, they are also more likely than their peers to drop out of school. Compared to single mothers, single fathers are also statistically more likely to be divorced rather than never married. Divorced single parents likely have a greater network or resources than single parents who have never been married. This might explain why single mothers are more often in the spotlight of the discussion about enrolled parents.

It’s no secret that the responsibilities associated with parenthood and education are immense. According to the same report, 40% of married mothers ultimately attained their degree within six years of enrollment, versus only 28% of single mothers enrolled. This is compared to a 57% graduation rate for female students without children, according to data provided by the U.S. Department of Education between 2003 and 2009. Single mothers in school face the serious task of earning enough income to support their children, while simultaneously finding enough time to complete their studies. This creates a challenging catch-22, because single mothers or fathers will have to spend extra money on childcare while they are away at class. The majority of single parents already have low incomes, but in order to advance their earning potential they need a degree. It’s well known that postsecondary education opens up a world of benefits including greater health, greater opportunities for children in those families, and higher incomes.

What’s less often addressed is: what about mothers in medical school? Single mothers earning their undergraduate degree aren’t the only ones sacrificing for a better future. Both single and married mothers are out there taking on medical programs after undergrad. While there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to support that women parent and attend medical school every day, the statistics often neglect to address this phenomenon. It’s easy to locate information on undergraduates with children, but there is less information available regarding parents who pursue medical programs and residency.

Steps for a Successful Routine

Many parents in medical school have perfected a routine that helps them keep the balance. Some parents in medical school recommend socializing throughout the day with other classmates to create a support system of people who understand what you’re going through. Other classmates can help you with childcare if you’re in a bind, and provide notes if your child has an emergency and you have to miss something important. Finding reliable childcare is key, and so is finding a daycare where your child has fun and feels safe. The best thing you can do is to build a support system that is as flexible as possible. When you’re taking classes and especially while you’re in residency, your schedule can change suddenly. Having a babysitter that is open to last minute calls, or attending school near family can be very useful.

Depending on your location, some medical schools have individualized learning plans and flexible, longer timelines that could be really useful for parents or those planning a baby. A more gradual process can lend a helping hand to those with complicated schedules. If you already have a child or feel like parenthood is in your near future, it may be beneficial to select a medical school based on that specific criteria. It’s more common for offshore medical school to offer rolling admissions, or year round application acceptance. Compared to the stringent application timelines of most schools, rolling applications release pressure from both prospective students and admissions officers dealing with application volume. For parents abroad, offshore schools have the the lowest MCAT scores to get into med school, which could also help relieve some anxiety about the process.

While parenting through a medical program is incredibly challenging, it also sets you apart. Success in light of so many extra responsibilities will set you apart in your residency and interviews. You’ll have an exceptional success story to draw on and you’ll be able to handle stress, deadlines and time management like a pro.

What Parents are Hoping For

According to one study involving focus groups of parents in residency, many burgeoning doctors hope that medical schools will offer greater accomodations in the future for residents with kids. It’s very common for undergraduate colleges today to have support programs for students that need daycare, financial help, and more. But It’s still less common in medical programs to find support systems in place. Other individuals in the study desired clearer policies for parental leave so that they aren’t left in the dark.

Many people plan their medical careers around their plans to be a parent. If you’re lucky enough to be in this position, you can work with your spouse or significant other to consider a timeline. You might think about whether you’ll want to have a baby during residency or during medical school. Residency is a notoriously demanding time, and opportunities for leave are almost nonexistent. Whatever you decide, the responsibility of parenting throughout your medical career is a rewarding challenge in the long run. From the outset, the prospect can seem daunting. But the more you ask around, you’ll actually find that it’s more common than widely recognized.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, there are many scenarios that lead to parenting during medical school. Whether you’re a single parent, planning your baby with a spouse, or already part of a family unit, there is still room for you in the medical community. Accomplishing this goal is possible under the right circumstances for you.

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn’t know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.