DIT Diary: Baby Fever
- On November 10, 2016
- NSW Doctor
Being a doctor shouldn’t exclude you from having a family, but the pressure to juggle training and parenthood is increasingly difficult for DITs.
Recently, I ran into an old friend from medical school who, like me, was studying for her physician’s exam. Upon seeing each other we immediately started discussing our future plans: “When will you have a baby? Two years? Three years? How about 2018, should we both do it in 2018? Then we can split one babysitter and have dinner. That’s a good plan.”
If baby fever is what people get when they want to conceive, pre-baby fever is what people get when they’re trying to work out when to conceive. When to have children and, more specifically, how to fit a life in around training, is one of the inherent conflicts of the DIT experience. There’s really not much time for starting a family during training. The move towards post-graduate medical programs means DITs are now older when they get started. Specialty programs may take years to complete, dominating one’s time during the years they’d be likely to meet a partner and start a family. The modern expectation that a good candidate will add a doctorate or masters to their training further increases the time commitment. And it’s not just the long hours and the overtime – training contracts usually only last one year, requiring DITs to move around a lot, either interstate or internationally. As such, forging a stable environment can be difficult.
I take my hat off to the DITS who got into training with a family. I’ve seen many registrars go home after a long day to look after their children, then study into the night and still do an excellent job caring for their patients. I don’t know how they do it. After a long day of work and study I can’t hardly feed and wash myself, let alone do the same for a small dependent human. Caring for a child during training is an amazing feat.
There may be time to buy houses and travel later in life, but unfortunately (and especially for women) starting a family is, to an extent, time critical. Applying to adopt is also a time consuming process that comes with a waiting list and an age limit. DITs may, of course, have different priorities that do not include having a family, but knowing that there is probably no time to do it regardless is going to have some bearing on the final decision.
We need to think about ways to make specialty training more family-friendly. I don’t mean to exclude trainees who aren’t interested in having a family with this sentiment, but unlike travel, volunteer work and further education, parenthood is not a time commitment that can be put on hold or deferred till later. It’s also not something you can leave till a hypothetical stage in your life when you have more free time. Biology dictates there will be a deadline by which we will all have to make a decision, and this is more pressing for female DITS. It’s only a little easier on male trainees. Two male colleagues of mine have just had new babies only four months prior to our exam. It’s not lost on them that through the grace of their supportive partners they are still able to study and can return to work after a couple of weeks of parental leave (a situation that would be much more difficult to manage in reverse, especially for any female doctor who would like to breastfeed). Many networks don’t seem to have really caught up with the concept of parental as opposed to maternal leave, offering limited or zero time off for new fathers and undermining the equally important need for fathers to bond with their babies. Being conscious that DITs need to build a life while we build our careers can only lead to happier trainees and more specialists to share the healthcare load in the future. dr.