August 7, 2011

A Family in Medical School

I am constantly asked by a variety of people how I am able to handle a family during medical school.  My short answer is: very carefully and deliberately.  However, it is so much more than that.  As we enter into a new school year, I think this is very important for us to consider.  As Catholics, we have a different understanding of the concept of vocation than most of our culture.  For many, the primary vocation determination is along the lines of religious, married, or single life.  From there we find a vocation in a profession.  And so, for those of us called to a vocation in medicine, we have to also consider how the Lord is calling us to live our life beyond just what work we do.  
For a little background, my wife and I were married the spring before medical school began and we expecting our son shortly thereafter.  This was possiblity that we openly embraced and hoped for, and so our son was born during my first year of medical school.  Being married and having a child during medical school has been a wonderful blessing.  Has it been a challenge? Yes, but one that has helped me to grow stronger and to be a better husband and father.  Everyday I had to make a conscious decision to stay focused and use my time wisely.  Every moment I wasted during my studies was a mometn that I could not spend with my wife or son.  The Lord had called me to marriage, to fatherhood, and to medical school.  I had a responsiblity to honor Him by doing well in all parts of my life.  
Now that I am in my fourth year of medical school, I do not regret a single challenge or difficult moment in trying to balance medical school and family life.  In fact, I firmly believe my success comes from the support of my family.  My wife has been amazing during this time, and extremely supportive.  Her daily help made my success possible and everyday she continues to make it possible for me to face the challenges and joys of medicine.  
One of the most important decisions I have made during medical school is to put my family first.  There have been many opportunities for me to take on extra work or to scrub in on that extra surgery, all with the benefit of ‘getting ahead’ and impressing my evaluators.  I will readily state the importance of doing well in medical school and learning everything you can and also showing your attendings and residents that you know your stuff, particularly if it gives greater credibility to Catholic physicians.  And yet, there is a balane to be struck.  There were days that I had responsibilities that went beyond the hours I had anticipated, or there was a procedure that I very much wanted to see and learn to do.  But I did not make this the norm for myself.  Rather, if a resident or attending told me that I was free to go, 95% of the time, I went home to my family.  I am not a big fan of playing the mindgames that sometimes exist in medical training where the resident says that you can leave, but it is really a test to see if you will stay.  I have found that going home to my family when I have been dismissed has always been fruitful and has not affected my grade or evaluations at all.  This is something I want to stress.  We need a balance in our life, particularly those of us with families.  We are husbands and fathers, or wives and mothers first, and doctors second.  We cannot sacrifice our families for our career, and this is a habit we must begin now.  If we put our priorities in their proper order, the Lord will bless us and guide us in our way.  The Lord is faithful to those who love Him and do His will, and when we care for our families and put them first in our life, the Lord will continue to bless us in all of our actions and decisions.
So as this new year begins, let us reflect upon our priorities, particularly those of us with families.  Are we putting them first in our life?  Or have we fallen into the way of the culture, putting our career first?  

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