As I sit here just days away from having my second child during medical school, I think about how simultaneously crazy and wonderful it has been. I was asked last year to write about how I balance medical school with family life so I thought I would share it here as well...
They say medicine is an art; well so is making it through the schooling. It takes intentionality, finesse, and even creativity to balance the rigors of medical school and home life. Medical school is extremely difficult no matter what your home life is like, but it can seem nearly impossible at times with a spouse and kids at home.
My first son was born midway through first year, during the thick of immunology didactics. Initially, I was struggling to stay afloat. I was grappling with my newly acquired ropes of fatherhood and trying to be an attentive husband, all while maintaining my intense study schedule. I had to adapt quickly or some area of my life was going to plummet.
Everyone’s situation is different. For me personally, I found it very difficult to study once I arrived home. So, I spent more time on campus to study after classes. I utilized my lunches and breaks in between to review and ask questions. I relied heavily upon classmates to hold me accountable and met up often to review the relentless onslaught of new material. I used my drive to and from campus productively, re-listening to previous lectures or calling family members to stay in touch.
It is imperative that you take breaks from the constant stress and studies, otherwise you will not make it through medical school. Since I was able to maximize my time outside of the house, this allowed me to devote precious time to my wife and new born baby. No matter how busy I was, I always tried to take the first hour I got home to give undivided attention to my family. I got to ask about their day, help out around the house, and play with my baby. When I made it home early enough I could help out with dinner, or at least enjoy dinner with the family. Then it was time to clean up, give the baby his bath, do the bedtime routine: dressing, bottle, brushing teeth, bedtime book, and rocking to sleep. By the time I shut the door to the nursery, it was already late at night. I still think it is important to have quality time with your wife, because it is not the same while watching a baby. Sometimes we would chat some more or play a game for thirty minutes or so, but then it was time for me to get back to studying. I could usually squeeze in an hour or two of more study hours before I fell asleep on my notes or stumbled back to the bedroom.
It is crucial to find your support system. For me it was my wife. She not only encouraged me throughout the whole process, but was extremely helpful. On nights when I needed extra time to study, she took on everything— and I mean everything! She took care of our baby all day long, cooked, cleaned, and helped me with any errands I was struggling to finish. On top of all that, she works full-time over 50 hours a week owning and operating a photography business! I do not know how she does it all, but I am so blessed to have her in my life. She balances being the best wife, mother, and business owner. Maybe that’s what inspires me to balance my roles of father, husband, and student.
All the loved ones in your life can be seen as burdens or blessings. When you correctly calibrate your perspective you realize what an advantage it is to have these people in your life. Yes, it takes time to maintain these relationships. For me personally, it at times added hours of chores, increased my stress, and decreased my sleep. However, the benefits were unsurpassable. After an overwhelming day of treading water in the lecture hall, nothing feels as uplifting as a welcome home hug from that special someone. In my case, it was my wife. Everyday she boosted my morale with her joyous smile. When she made me laugh, I momentarily forgot about the stresses that loomed within next Friday’s exam. Then, I got to hold my child. You can only understand the joys this brings once you have a child of your own. This was the most fulfilling study break and I was so fortunate to have him in my life during these stressful times.
Instead of looking at the chores in your life as time-consuming burdens, use them as physical reminders to count your blessings. When taking out the trash, be thankful you have arms and legs to do so. When changing your baby’s diaper, consider it foul-smelling proof that your child’s gastrointestinal system is working properly. I was thankful for the lecture recordings, because I was able to utilize this resource to re-watch dozens of lectures while feeding or rocking our baby. On the days when there is no time for exercising at the gym, at least you can do push ups wherever you are (which is what I resorted to often while playing with my son). I learned first-hand how perspective brings contentment— and having babies makes you efficient.
Families are dynamic and ever-changing. Everyone is busy and has stressful home life events happening throughout their schooling careers. It is how we adapt to these situations that allows us to persevere; and this perseverance builds unshakable character that will define us for the duration of our medical endeavors.