PMD 10: The Worry of Being an Older Premed Who Wants Kids

Session 10

Today, our premed student is changing her career because she wants to change the scope of her practice. But she’s conflicted because she’s struggling with things concerning her age and wanting to have kids. Is it possible to have kids during medical school?

[01:20] Caller of the Week:

“Ever since I dove into this premed journey and stumbled upon all of the different things that are offered by Ryan Gray like the Premed Diaries and all premed podcasts. Both Dr. Ryan Gray and Dr. Allison Gray have just been… felt really supported by this online community and all the information that’s out there. Anyway, the journey about myself that I wanted to share and the questions that I have for Allison and anybody else who’s in a similar situation. It’s related to just the challenge about my age…

I’m 29 and had kind of a different journey. I was a traditional student with a degree in Biology. I graduated at 22. And I’ve always been tempted to go to med school. I’ve always wanted to be a doctor. But I felt like when I was in my early 30s, I just lacked a lot of confidence. I never even took the MCAT despite doing most of the prereqs because I never really felt like I could do it. And I think I never really wanted to put myself out there to find out. So instead, I actually completed a second undergrad – dietitian. I’ve been working clinically in a care setting as a dietitian for almost five years now. And I absolutely love my job. I work with a really unique population… the people I work with is a tribal population in a really remote part of the United States. I work in a hospital and over the past five years, I feel like I’ve grown so much life experience and so much confidence. I work with great health care institutions that always supported me and told me really I could do anything… I have been able to grow my role out of the hospital into our outpatient oncology palliative care clinic.

Through this process, I’ve felt myself as feeling really confined by my scope of practice as a dietitian. I’m so interested and curious about medicine and about the unique cancers that my patients are struggling with and just find myself wanting to learn more and to know more. And to be able to go beyond nutrition to help my patient… I’m completing – the last prereqs that I needed was Physics class… so I’m just taking that last class and I’m scheduled to take the MCAT in March of this year and apply to medical schools in June.

Really, the reason that I’m feeling conflicted and scared and worried is because I’m 29 years old. I’m about to commit to another goal beyond four years at school and the time you consider medical school and the residency. And I want to have kids. I’ve grown up in this great environment both growing up and worked where being a woman has never been the reason not to do anything at all. And I think this might be one of the first times that I’ve ever felt this burden of being a female… I don’t want to take anything away from men who are doctors or medical students who have a huge burden on their shoulders with supporting family or a wife who’s considering pregnancy. But it just comes along with a whole extra complexity when you’re the one who will be going to medical school.

When I told my mom who’s a physician and was actually the first female medical director of one of our local hospitals that I wanted to go to medical school and be a doctor, she said, that’s great. And her second comment was, so you’ve decided to forgo having kids then, which stressed totally threw me… Luckily I’ve worked with a lot of really supportive physicians and the people that I have chosen to share my plans with have told me – you can do it. It’s possible. Everybody has stories about somebody they knew who had kids in medical school but I’m just so worried about it… get through medical school, get through a residency and be 36, 37 at best and I could find myself unable to get pregnant. And I’m worried about in the future, regret that I’ll have. I have this career that I love that has a lot of promise as a dietitian… but I just know that I would love being a doctor and then I could do so much good of this population and provide so much continuity of care in our region and for all of our rural patients.

I feel really torn given my age, I’m turning 30 next month. The other important thing to mention, the other part of this equation is my very supportive husband… really only been seriously deciding to take the plunge into applying to medical school since about August of this year. And when he brought it up, he supported me 100%. We’ve talked a lot about the question of kids because we both want kids – when do we have, when do we try, when is the best time, when should you have kids in medical school, should we wait… what’s going to happen if we wait a few years until so I would be in medical school or even wait until I graduated from my residency to try or if he’s going to hold it against me if I can’t get pregnant. He said he won’t but I just can’t help but have that worry…”

[09:55] Being a Mom and a Woman

'As a mom, there's no greater gift than be able to have children and be a mom.'Click To Tweet

I love what I do as a physician, but I think it’s in our biology in terms of our desire to be parents. Although not everyone feels this way, but for many of us, it’s a very powerful, important thing we want to do.

It’s definitely different as a woman vs a man. There are certain additional complexities that we have as women going through medical school, residency, and trying to juggle getting pregnant and all of the things that go along with that, plus having children. When you’re parenting, just the mere pregnancy itself is unique to women.

[11:20] Working as a Dietitian and Getting Family Support

You talked about regret and do you think you would regret staying in what you’re doing now forever? Otherwise, you would always potentially wonder and would have what ifs. This being said, I wonder if you’d regret not applying.

Additionally, it’s wonderful that your husband supports you. It’s so important to have that support from day one.

It would also be fantastic to be able to bring your skills as a physician back to the same population you’re caring for. Being able to do more sounds really fantastic.

[12:35] How to Do It All

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As a child, teenager, and young adult, you’d think you can handle xyz when you’re at this certain age. But then you realize that nobody really has their stuff together. And we’re all just coursing through. So adding children, which is a huge part of that equation, is that there’s never necessarily a right time. In fact, I don’t think there’s ever a right time, so to speak. There will be times it will be more challenging in which to have children. If you have a kid and starting third year of medical school, that is a challenging time. If you’re starting your internship and you’re about to have a kid, then you’d have to postpone your start date. Definitely, there are more challenging times on the path of medical school and residency, at which time having children would be harder. But as to whether there’s a perfect time, probably not.

[13:50] You Can Have Both: Kids and Medical School

It’s clear how much you want to have children and I would very disrespectfully disagree with your mom. I think you can have both. There are several people in their group who had kids in medical school.

And the rest of us who did not have children yet would look at them wondering how they’re able to do that. But they would usually figure out different ways of getting things done.

It’s not the same when you have children. You have to heavily prioritize what you’re doing and really make things consistent and be very clear about what’s happening when. So their ability to succeed in medical school just rested on the fact they had to make that work for their kids. They had to find those times when they could study. They have to find the time so they can be there for their kids.

Is it possible to do it? Absolutely. It’s just a question of making it work and figuring out who’s going to do what – bath time, bedtime, study time, etc. And if one of you is in medical school instead of both of you, it’s probably much easier than if you’re both in school and trying to have kids.

[15:57] The Pieces to the Puzzle

First, this is very much something people do. It’s just a question of figuring out how. If you can get through medical school. It’s just a matter of making all the pieces altogether. Parenting is a lot of just feeling your way through life and knowing that your priority is your kid.

Perfection and raising children, they do not go together… Perfection is something we strive for but certainly something that is not a reality.

[17:20] Going to Med School at 30

Being 29 or 30 is different than starting med school when you’re 20 or 22. However, I have kids and colleagues who had kids when they were 20. But you never know. Nobody can tell you what your fertility journey is going to look like until you’re at that point. You might go and have one kid when you’re 36.

[18:40] Figure It Out with Your Husband

When does it feel right for you to have kids? If having children sooner is something you really want to do, then do that sooner. Moreover, it is such a personal journal and a personal question for everybody. For me, I felt too stressed out about just the process of being a med student. I felt like I needed to grow some more.

I was also too worried that if I had kids during residency that the stress would just be out of control. The kind of residency program I had trained was incredibly rigorous. And that was what scared me into not feeling I could.

But that’s just me. I know there are others who did really both. I remember one of our junior residents had a baby during the most challenging part of our residency. We were on call every fourth night for the entire year. And she had a baby!

Any of these things are possible. It’s just a question of how do you feel? If you’re really in it and your husband, then it’s really just a matter of when you both feel this is what you want to do and you will figure the rest out. If you wait just for the sake of it, it may not be the right time. So it’s more a question of looking at how you feel and where you’re going to medical school.

Another thing to consider is to think about the support you have nearby. One of the things that help families going through medical school or residency is having support from an extended family nearby. No matter what stage you’re at, it’s huge to have that kind of support.

[22:25] Final Thoughts

I hear you. I appreciate the decision you’re faced with as well as the concern and worry you have. Keep in mind that you have a very supportive husband and a very bright future in front of you as you’ve done very well so far. You know what you want. So it’s just a matter of making it work. At the end of the day, push forward. Apply to medical school. Don’t live with regret and see where it goes. Hopefully, you’re able to get additional family support in that area. Otherwise, you’re going to make that work too.

In terms of fertility concern, when you feel you’re ready to become a mom then make that happen too. You may find it’s really hard to juggle, but you will make it work! The journey that you will take as a med student, as a resident – you’ll have stressors throughout that period. But you will make it work.

'Just go with your gut. Use your resources, the people around you and just keep your head up and you will get through it.'Click To Tweet


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