Balancing medicine & motherhood: three day medical conference take away

As a 21-year-old woman in the 21st century, I truly owe my current hopes and dreams and future success and career, to those women who paved the way for me. Women such as Rosalind Franklin, Gloria Steinem, Hillary Clinton, my mother—a member of the first class of women at Amherst—and all our mothers, who pioneered their way through the male-dominated and sexist working world to create greater equalities and opportunities for us today.

However despite all that, I often still feel discouraged and disheartened at the potential crossroads I will face in balancing my goals of becoming a physician and a mother. I am constantly questioning my path, sometimes feeling as though practicing medicine and involved parenting will never go hand in hand.

For example, this summer I interned in a hospital. All of the medical students, residents, and physicians that worked in the institute were male, with the exception of one female physician. The head of the institute is a renowned cardiac surgeon, Dr. Elefteriades or Dr. E, who I had the opportunity to shadow in surgery. Dr. E, who has been published over 300 times, has performed over 10,000 heart operations including nearly 400 heart transplants, and is consistently named one of the best doctors in the field, became a great role model and idol for me.

During the summer, I even read the nonfiction novel that Dr. E wrote titled “Extraordinary Hearts.” The prelude of the novel began by Dr. E discussing the early time of his career. He spent a lot of it thanking his wife, who he gratefully said singlehandedly raised his children and ran the household during his residency, and who allowed him the ability to both become a father and a successful surgeon.

Reading this passage sorely bothered me. I felt as though my gender and societal norms suddenly disallowed me from reaching my dreams. I felt as though my ability to dream big and to look up to amazing physicians like Dr. E was marred by the realities of my gender and my desire to be a parent. What if I wanted to be a cardiac surgeon? What if I wanted to be as successful as Dr. E? Does that mean I need to find a spouse who is willing to sacrifice their career and be a stay at home dad? Is that even possible?

Constantly I feel these twinges of doubts and confusion. I doubt going to medical school, never because of its infamous intensity or the grueling realities of residency, but because I fear it will stop me from achieving a goal that is just as important to me, becoming a caring and supportive mother to at least two, ideally three children.

However, this past November, I had the amazing opportunity to attend TEDMED, a three day medical conference that brings together over 1000 people in healthcare and medicine featuring 50 amazing speakers. I applied to attend TEDMED through Colby, and was delighted to have been accepted for what I knew would be an inspiring three days.

The speakers included impressively successful and renowned pioneers in their field, including the Surgeon General, the NIH Director of Infectious Disease and Allergy, the New York City Health Commissioner, and a variety of other MDs and PhDs that had been published multiple times in Nature and Science, the most exclusive science journals, and who were on the cutting edge of health and medicine.

Coming back from TEDMED, I was in utter awe. It had been an unbelievable three days. However to my surprise the greatest take away was a reassurance that I can, in fact, achieve my goals of medicine and motherhood, and that is because half of the speakers were women!

The women featured were young, vibrant, beautiful, and successful, and many were mothers. From CEOs and innovators to clinicians, researchers, and professors, these women embodied everything I dream of achieving in my life.

I could try to summarize these speakers and how each of their talks were impressive and inspiring in and of itself, but that would take too long and I wouldn’t do any of them justice. But overall, it was absolutely thrilling and exciting to be in the same room as these successful women. It has given me an entirely renewed sense of what I can achieve, because I now have 25 amazing role models!

Despite many uncertainties, especially as a soon to be second semester senior, one thing I am certain of, thanks to TEDMED, is that it is very much possible for me to balance motherhood and medicine. And I feel immensely grateful to the female pioneers who have directly demonstrated this, especially those featured in TEDMED.

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